It took ages for twin creative partners Adamma and Adanne Ebo to find just the right song for a particular car scene in their stunning debut feature, Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. For weeks, stars Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall, who play an embattled megachurch pastor and his devoted wife, kept asking the sisters about it. Would they be going buck wild to an OutKast song? Maybe something by Ludacris?
It was a tricky choice, the Ebo sisters explained to The Daily Beast in a recent joint interview. First, the song needed to capture a specific era. As Adamma explained, the sisters “wanted this to feel like the time period when we were growing up and going to church.” (They were born in 1991.) The writer-director also wanted us to see these oh-so-righteous religious leaders listening to something extremely secular.
As one might imagine, the day Adamma and Adanne finally got to reveal their song choice was a big one. “We were so hype,” said producer Adanne. “We were like, it’s gonna be ‘Knuck If You Buck!”‘
The response? Radio silence.
“They were like, what is that?” Adanne recalled with a laugh.
“So they had to learn it,” Adamma added.
Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck” is, as Adamma put it, a “very 2000s Atlanta song.” But beyond reflecting the film’s setting, the track also reflects how pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Brown) and his faithful wife, Trinitie (Hall), are doing when we first meet them.
“They’re gearing up for the fight of their lives,” Adamma said. ‘Cause it’s a fight song.’ ‘Knuck If You Buck’ is a fight song—it’s about beating people up.” (So much for turning the other cheek.)
As we soon find out, Lee-Curtis and Trinitie once presided over a massive congregation, before a scandal emptied their pews. Lee-Curtis, whose sermons can veer into homophobia, has been accused of showering a certain young, male, and vulnerable congregants with gifts and attention. When Honk for Jesus begins, he and his wife have agreed to participate in a documentary (skeptically, in Trinitie’s case) as an attempt to win back their reputations.
Hall and Brown are each utterly unforgettable in their roles. As a First Lady whose fury righteousness at her husband can, at times, prevent her from examining her own complicity in his misdeeds, Hall is both stunning and side-splitting. One moment, we’re laughing at Trinitie’s breezy one-liners, and the next, we’re watching her fall apart internally while a quivering smile remains plastered across her face. Brown, meanwhile, is unnerving in his intensity—from his piercing eyes, to his anxiously unpredictable sermons, to his larger-than-life magnetism.
When asked what Brown and Hall are like to work with, the sisters agreed on one thing immediately—as Adamma put it, “They are down for any and everything.” For emphasis, her sister added, “Yeah—they’ll do whatever.” That included a fair amount of improv for both actors, especially Brown, whose off-the-cuff humor inspired his genius joke that the word “ego” actually “stands for ‘edging God out.”‘
With Honk for Jesus premiering Friday in theaters and on Peacock, a second feature film on the way, and a TV deal already in place, it seems safe to bet we’ll be hearing the Ebo sisters’ names a fair amount in the future. But their creative partnership was never a foregone conclusion. It began when both of them were in school for separate subjects; While Adamma studied film, Adanne went to law school. As part of her film program, Adamma was required to make a short film each year, and during her second year, she recruited her twin sister as a producer. From there, a new facet to their relationship formed.
“She said, ‘I think you’d be good at this—will you do it?’” Adanne told me as she sat beside her sister. “I knew nothing about it—I did a lot of Googling—but I did fall in love with it and decided that I was all-in from that point forward.” In addition to creative producing, Adanne now works with her twin as a writing partner on all projects.
Growing up in the megachurch scene of Atlanta, the Ebos developed a fair amount of skepticism toward their spiritual upbringing—even as they are connected with other aspects of their faith. Adamma, who produced a short-film version of Honk in high school, said that with this project, she was “trying to figure myself out, basically.”
“If you hold up the mirror, you’ll see that there are both wars and beauty,” she said. “It’s not all of one thing. And to me that’s just real.”
One aspect of the Ebos’ church experience that makes it into the film? Praise miming, in which performers don mime makeup and dance expressively to gospel music. It’s a relatively recent tradition adopted in some Black churches, and the Ebos said it became popular in their orbit in the 2000s. “I don’t think we knew that other people weren’t familiar with it,” Adanne said. “We were just like, ‘Oh, they’re doing this in every church now.'”
“It definitely brings you into the uncanny valley,” Adamma said of praise miming. “I think at least that was our experience. I remember feeling crazy because so many other people were enjoying it.” When Hall wears the mime makeup for a climactic final-act monologue, the results are, indeed, pretty unreal.
“[Praise miming] definitely brings you into the uncanny valley. I remember feeling crazy because so many other people were enjoying it.”
Although Honk for Jesus satirizes the Southern megachurch scene the Ebo sisters grew up with, the film avoids punching down to instead ask thornier questions about vanity, truth, and redemption. The mockumentary format, Adamma adds, allows us to see how the couple behaves in front of cameras as well as off. Whenever they’re in the spotlight, the writer-director points out, Trinitie and Lee-Curtis are usually at their most inauthentic. Turn the cameras off, however, and “we get a true peak into who these people really are.”
When asked what’s on the horizon after Honk for JesusAdamma said their next feature will be another dark comedy—perhaps a little darker than Honk, and a little more genre (specifically, thriller and magical realism). “And also very Black,” she added. “Don’t expect to see too many white folk.”