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Movie Review

Is freedom really possible for those who've been imprisoned by their own choices or the wickedness of others? That's the question Bishop T.D. Jakes' movie Woman Thou Art Loosed explores.

Its main character, Michelle Jordan, is described at the end of the film as a "fictional composite" of "countless" women who live in literal or figurative bondage. For Michelle, the horror of sexual abuse as a young girl at the hands of her mother's boyfriend, Reggie, incarcerated her in an emotional prison first, and then in a real one. The abuse she suffered (her mother, Cassie, knew about it) resulted in a downward spiral into crack addiction, dancing as a stripper, prostitution and two stints in prison.

The story's startling opening scene shows Michelle responding to a call for salvation at Bishop Jakes' church. Just as she reaches the altar, however, she produces a handgun and fires three shots at someone off-camera. That dramatic entrée sets the stage for Michelle's story, which she recounts to Bishop Jakes, who comes to visit her on death row. The plot weaves together painful memories from her childhood; flashbacks to a crucial three-day period following Michelle's release from her first prison term; and the present, in which Bishop Jakes speaks gentle, compassionate words of hope to the broken woman.


Positive Elements

From a human perspective, the depth of Michelle's hurt—and the revenge she unleashes on those who've hurt her—is beyond redemption. But the film demonstrates how hope and redemption are still possible because of what God has done on behalf of mankind. These are fundamentally spiritual concepts, and to illustrate them the film often falls back on the principles found in T.D. Jakes' bestselling self-help book of the same title. ...

Spiritual Content

... Jakes compassionately shares some of these ideas with Michelle when he visits her in prison. And she also hears them when she visits his church. Throughout the film, Jakes emphasizes freedom from guilt, fear and shame. He also touches on forgiveness, hope and personal responsibility. All of these things are gifts from God, not trinkets we can muster up with our own strength or cleverness. Michelle is one of several characters who find hope amid their brokenness and begin to take responsibility for their sinful choices.

Sexual Content

A drunken Reggie maneuvers Michelle (as a young girl) into her bedroom with the intent to rape her. The door closes behind them, and we hear shuffling and her screams as he molests her. (Her mother discovers Michelle whimpering and huddled in the closet, her dress covered with blood.)

Michelle later has a graphic flashback in which we see her pole dancing along with several other strippers (all of whom are wearing bikinis). Her pimp climbs on top of her back to rape her and someone having sex with her while she's in a crack-induced stupor. (While no explicit nudity is seen, motion and sound cues leave no question about what's being depicted.)

Michelle is seen covering herself with a towel as she leaves a prison shower.

Violent Content

When the film revisits Michelle's lethal shooting in the church, we see the bullets strike the target's chest. Michelle has a fistfight with a former pimp. After they trade blows, he shoves her to the ground and begins pummeling her. At this point, the film blurs and goes into slow motion as he attacks, and Michelle has a flashback to another, similar scene of violence. Her friend, Nicole, ends the assault by hitting the pimp from behind, knocking him unconscious with a blunt object.

When Reggie can't pay his drug dealer for the crack he's used, the dealer threatens with a gun to the head. Reggie manages to escape while the dealer fires five or six shots at him.

Crude or Profane Language

Characters use the words "d--n," "h---" and "a--" about half-a-dozen times, and "oh my god" three or four times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Michelle, along with other prostitutes and her pimp smoke crack pipes. Reggie smokes crack with his drug dealer and several other young men. (These drug-use scenes are among the most graphically portrayed parts of the movie, and are likely what earned the film its R rating.)

Other Negative Elements

Despite Michelle's tears and confession that Reggie raped her, Cassie doesn't believe her daughter (or at least claims she doesn't) and accuses her instead of being a "fast" girl who let a neighbor down the street take advantage of her. Cassie knows the truth, but she's unable to do anything about it because it would mean leaving Reggie, something she's not willing to do. (That's negative only inasmuch as it's not a healthy maternal response. However, the film makes it clear that such behavior is damaging, and doesn't pull any punches in its stormy portrayal of this extremely dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship.)


Can a self-help book really be successfully reshaped as a fictional film? I had my doubts, and upon seeing the opening shots of Bishop Jakes' preaching, I thought, Oh no, this is going to be nothing more than a long infomercial for a prominent pastor, with snippets of a sappy "story" spliced in between.

But the power of Michelle's story combined with Jakes' compassionate and wise responses to her brokenness proved me wrong. The pastor's unwillingness to give up hope, to challenge Michelle's self-pity—and the lies she's believed—help her (and us) see that our identity is so much more than our worst mistakes and the worst others can dish out. Slowly, Michelle begins to see that revenge can never make up for what's been stolen from her, and that forgiveness is the only path to hope.

Woman Thou Art Loosed also does a masterful job of showing how one generation's weaknesses and sins shape the lives of the next. Cassie's unwillingness to face the truth about her boyfriend is inexcusable, yet we slowly see how that choice has been influenced by her own tragic experiences. Like Michelle, desperation and isolation are virtually all Cassie has ever known.

Jakes calls the R rating his movie received from the MPAA "a disappointment," insisting it is no "more graphic than any other things ... on TV—my youngest son is 10, and he's seen it." He told Time, "I would have rated it PG. The film does deal with serious issues. It's similar to Mel Gibson's dilemma with The Passion. There's no way to glamorize an execution on a Cross. If you're going to broach a subject like child abuse, which is in this film, you can't turn that into Kool-Aid and Oreo cookies."

He's got a point. But so does the ratings board. Equally thoughtful Christians will see the controversial content in this film either as restrained (no worse that what you're liable to see on CSI), or as unneeded material best suited to the editing room floor.

Ultimately, I believe Woman Thou Art Loosed is a film about hope that is sometimes hampered by the way it dabbles in "typical" Hollywood portrayals of sex and violence. And that dabbling is done at a significant enough level that it'll (rightfully) remain out of bounds for quite a few families—some very much in need of the message presented. Namely, that God promises to enter into the most shattering experiences of our lives, if we'll let Him. He won't magically or automatically make our circumstances better, but He will loose us from the shackles of shame and prepare us to face our future with confidence and peace.

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