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The Next Reel • Season 13 • Series: 1998 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture Nominees • Soul Food

Soul Food

“My grandma always said, ‘Family pulling together in times of need will make it strong.’”

The Family That Eats Together: A Discussion of Soul Food

Before Soul Food hit theaters in 1997, writer and director George Tillman Jr. struggled to get his first feature film made. After selling the script, the production company went under before filming began. Undeterred, Tillman persevered and found new backing from Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and his wife Tracey. Their shared vision brought Tillman’s semi-autobiographical story to life. Soul Food went on to become a breakout hit, launching Tillman’s career and sparking an ongoing debate about family, culture, and tradition.

Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we continue the 1998 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture Nominees series with a conversation about Tillman Jr.’s 1997 film Soul Food.

Digging into Family, Food, and Forgiveness

In our lively discussion, we dig into the joys and tensions of the Joseph family’s Sunday dinners. We’re divided on the effectiveness of young Ahmad’s voiceover narration as a narrative device. The family relationships feel authentic, with standout performances from the actresses playing the three sisters – Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, and Nia Long. However, we take issue with some of the easy storytelling choices, especially regarding Lem’s return to prison. The “fairy tale” ending strains believability more for Andy than Pete, but it does raise thought-provoking questions about the role of food and togetherness in absolving past wrongs.

More Food for Thought

  • Appreciating the film’s universal messages about family bonds
  • Mama’s troubling role in cultivating the family’s unhealthy diet
  • Brandon Hammond’s sweet portrayal of young Ahmad
  • Michael Beach excelling with an interesting role
  • Director George Tillman Jr.’s growth between this film and The Hate U Give

Bringing Families Together

Soul Food succeeds in celebrating the aspirational joy of gathering family around the table. While we question some of the storytelling choices, the performances draw us into the sprawling Joseph family. Throughout our conversation, we find plenty to chew on, from fairy tale endings to the competing pulls of past and future. It makes for a nourishing discussion worth tuning in to. We have a great time talking about it, so check it out then tune in. The Next Reel – when the movie ends, our conversation begins!

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