Soul Food: The Film That Showed Every Side of Black Family Reality

Soul Food promotional movie poster, 1997 (Starring: Vanessa Williams, Nia Long, Vivica A. Fox, Mekhi Phifer, Irma P.Hall, Brandon Hammond, Michael Beach, Jeffrey D. Sams, Mel Jackson)

In 1997, director George Tillman Jr., with the help of production from Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, and an extended group of talented creatives, came together to create what would be one of the most memorable black films of our time.

“Soul Food,” introduced us to a tight-bonded, but somewhat dysfunctional Chicago family, who had their problems but were always pulled together by Sunday dinner, at none other than, Big Mama’s house.

It was Ahmad, the mini superhero who followed behind Big Momma’s legacy, once she passed on, who kept the family semi in-tact, and would do anything in his power to maintain that love implemented through black families, from day one.

But sometimes and more than likely, no family is perfect, and it takes a tribe to succeed at fixing what’s been broken.

Soul Food showed us just that. The trials and tribulations of a judgmental and secretive family, carrying a bowl of emotions and regret, and needing that extra push to stay afloat.

And it also gave us validation, and a relatable sense of what goes on through a black family, even if you couldn’t relate to most of it, you could connect with at least one concept.

Concepts we’re bringing to the table, just like Sunday dinner.

The Grandmother is the Heart of the Family

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Mama Joe, was the key to the locked doors of the family. Although she avoided problems as much as anyone else, her heart wouldn’t allow anyone to be down about it, or turn her nose up at the downfalls of those who she from the ground up, raised.

Her relationship with all of her children, their spouses, and own children, was special in its own way, everyone was welcomed in her home and no one’s spot was every taken from Sunday dinner, no matter how long they held out from visits.

And just like Big Mama, we saw the spirit and big heart of our own grandmothers, their caring ways and putting everyone else before themselves. No matter what, you could never see the bad in grandma, she’s the angel of the family, almost like the ultimate protector, and the force holding together the strength, from the cryptic drama and family swirls.

To see her slowly leave the family from diabetes, another major health condition within our people, it was as heartbreaking as seeing the family fall apart, right in front of our eyes. But it’s what the family decides to do with her legacy, to keep on her well wishes of God’s love, and the connection of loyalty they’ve been blessedly bonded by.

The Neglect of Mental Health

 

Uncle Pete was isolated from the rest of the family, as he resided in the upstairs back room, never coming out and only opening door to accept food; if you were lucky enough for him to even like it.

But just because he was in his own space, it made him “strange,” or a “problem,” for the sake of the rest of the family, when he just had a severe condition of Alzheimer’s, that no one in the family knew how to accept, or even deal with it enough to intertwine him back into the bond, he was intentionally ignored from.

Maxine’s emotional reaction, to seeing Uncle Pete for the first time in years, was a symbol of guilt and confusion to why she allowed the isolation, when clearly it was the same ole Uncle Pete, just in a different mindset.

We all as a collective black community, have to stop labeling our family, peers, friends, colleagues and generally anyone, “crazy” or “in need of prayer,” “going through a phrase,” when they’re actually mentally suffering. It’s okay for us all to feel unstable and out of touch within ourselves, and it’s even more acceptable to take your time, at your own pace, and hopefully with the genuine support and medical attention, to get back to a secure, peace of mind.

Sibling Rivalry

Vanessa Williams as Teri, Irma P.Hall as Josephine Joseph, and Vivica A. Fox as Maxine in Soul Food

Teri (Williams) and Maxine (Fox), had it out for each other since the day Maxine’s husband Kenny, was Teri’s high school sweetheart. And well we all seen what happened in that love triangle;  I mean Max and Kenny did secure three kids.

And Teri, well Teri had Myles, and we know what happened during that marriage as well, and how it ended.

But as they got older, it was more than the troubles of stealing the other’s man, more so jealousy and by any means necessary,  the better bigger sister in example for Bird(Long), on Terri’s behalf, and Maxine never giving Terri her credit for her righteous success, and ultimately Terri despising Max’s ability to be a great wife, as she is mother.

When I think of sibling rivalries, I recall small arguments or minimal physical altercations, but never any sense of jealousy or resentment for the path’s my siblings took, that may have been different from mine.

If anything, as siblings we should be lifting one another up, and having each other’s back no matter what, something that Max and Terri seemed to lack. If any jealousy runs in a family, it’s an infectious bug caused by a lack of attention, and prosperity you should be more proud, than envious of. Siblings are literally one another’s backbone.

A Home is Not Everyone’s House

Gina Ravera as Cousin Faith and Michael Beach as Myles in Soul Food

Not so good ole Cousin Faith.

It would be every blue moon, where she would pop back into the families’ lives, when her road to superstar success wasn’t working out, or she needed another loan, car or place to stay to cover finesse her way into her next move.

We all heard of the boujee cousin who comes around every once in a while, just to gloat about their recent vacation or thousand dollar purchase, but rarely and more importantly, hopefully not, do we come across a cousin Faith.

After Teri openly let Faith in her house to figure out her life as an aspiring dancer, Faith took it as an opportunity to not only sleep with her cousin’s as deceitful husband, but do it in her own damn house.

Now we won’t ever promote violence, but we see exactly where Teri was coming from when she chased Myles out of that kitchen with a butcher knife, and a soul full of anger.

Family and the ones we love sometimes do a lot to hurt us, and we make exceptions because we think it’s our right to maintain that lock on loyalty in love, but when too much is enough, it’s time to cut those ties. Just know, you can love someone from a distance.

Kids Know it All

Irma P. Hall as Josephine Joseph and Brandon Hammond as Ahmad in Soul Food

Ahmad was ahead of his time. This young man knew the in and outs of his entire family, and although he was quiet about most of the things he witnessed, it had nothing on the info he gathered over time.

He was smart, and knew how to navigate through each individual of his family, in a way where even at such a young age, he could get on their level and understand, without any question of judgment.

Ultimately, It was his connection with Big Mama that stole our hearts. A lot of us could relate in regards to the relationship we share with our grandmothers, how we go to them for almost everything, and would do anything for them in a heartbeat.

But Ahmad’s character, just like Big Mama, was the heart of the family as well. He knew he had a promise and job to fulfill, during his grandmother’s absence, and he did. It was him that got everyone together for the tradition of Sunday dinner, and even though it may have escalated into an uproar, it ended with a new future, for the entire family.

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Diamond Jones

Jr. Editor Lifestlye/Entertainment Department

Diamond Jones, 21, is a St.Louis native, born on the west side of Detroit. She is currently a junior, studying Journalism, with a minor in Criminology and Criminal Justice. Her writing reaches to audiences everywhere, directing it toward the empowerement and excellence of black people and their accomplishments. She has written for The Daily Egyptian, LoveThisTrackTV, Georgia State’s The Signal and the National Association of Black Journalists, which she is a dedicated member of. She hopes to continue to inspire those through her words and make those who feel underrepresented, see their light.