Oprah Winfrey is executive producing and co-starring in “Greenleaf,” a show about the black church set in her own home state of Tennessee. I will admit being a bit late to the “Greenleaf” party, but I’m here now, caught up, and ready to blog. I firmly believe Oprah Winfrey intends this show to spark conversation, and I have been blessed to talk about it with two of my favorite thinkers: Jade Perry, a writer you can follow at jadetperry.com and Kimm D. Lett, whose thoughts you can find at kimmdlett.com. Before you read any further, YES, there will be some spoilers. Here we go!
I will admit being wary (at first) that “Greenleaf” would be too soapy, but I stand corrected on that…the writing is sharp, the storylines are compelling and even though it may trouble some that “Greenleaf” explores Black church life in all of its splendor, imperfections and hypocrisies, I’m grateful for it. I love the character of Grace Greenleaf (“GiGi”), as played by Merle Dandridge. I honestly cannot remember if I have ever seen a Black woman preparing a sermon on a television show before; that by itself is epic. What do you think about Grace Greenleaf?
From the moment I saw her, I knew “GiGi” (Grace) would be my favorite.
She is the antithesis of how many imagine Christian women to be (given the Proverbs 31 woman as the prototype). Grace is far from traditional. She questions. She’s quick to call out wrongs.
She’s poised, free, and fierce. And although she often doubts herself when she acts, she is courageous. She is focused on her mission. After spending time away from home, church and family, she returns to get to the bottom of her sister’s death and the reason she left in the first place. Of course, this mission isn’t supported by her family who has no problem with the status quo or keeping secrets at the detriment of others. Therefore, GiGi is often seen as a ‘troublemaker’ and ‘backslider’ but determined, Grace stands fearlessly in spite of it all.
Of course, I absolutely love Grace for her tenacity and drive to do the right thing. I love her for her intentionality of decision: to leave her home when (shit) got toxic and to come back and hold people accountable for their toxicity. On that general principle alone, I’m here for Grace “Gigi” Greenleaf.
I love the scenes between Grace and her Aunt Mavis (played by Oprah Winfrey). Such a treat to see two beautiful Black women light up the screen the way they do. And take on what they are taking on.
I think the writers of Greenleaf have written this beautiful dynamic of women: the aunt who is immensely supportive of Grace “Gigi” Greenleaf – two very “womanish” women – who are here, in mind / soul / body for other women who have been abused. I appreciate them for that.
I am also grateful to the writers for exploring this rape/abuse storyline. I also understand the reluctance too, since this is bound to ruffle some church feathers. Even though we know sexual abuse does occur in churches, I don’t feel it is addressed enough. Have you ever heard this discussed in any of the churches you’ve been a part of over your lives?
As someone who advocates for gender equity, today I make sure institutions I am a part of have programs/discuss these issues. However, I know many churches don’t discuss molestation and statutory rape although statistics show that black women experience sexual assault before the age of 18 years old and domestic violence like no other group in the United States, make up majority of these congregations, and domestic violence and sexual abuse are prevalent among church members.
Currently, I don’t attend church regularly (more on that later). However, I can say that the majority of my life, I’ve been in regular fellowship in a Black church context and I haven’t heard this discussed often. I attended one church that decided to have a small group, similar to the one that Grace Greenleaf constructs, to discuss sexual abuse. I was grateful to see that. Yet, only have this one example to give, which I think speaks volumes.
Greenleaf not only deals with molestation and statutory rape in the character of Uncle Mac (shudder – I’m waiting for his downfall). They also are putting other people’s complicity in the abuse of minors and the abuse of women out there. Bless Oprah for that, seriously. We can talk about the perpetrator but that means we’ve also got to talk about those who are complicit in the process – because if that’s not dealt with, then these cycles continue.
Yes to Uncle Mac’s downfall, and YES, we not only need to hold offenders accountable but also deal with those who know and say (and do) nothing. Ladies this has been rich…so much more to say we could have a ten-part series! Thank you for your contributions. Next time, we will talk about Grace, the sexually active preacher.
Kimm D. Lett is a consultant, educator, writer and advocate. She has a Juris Doctorate; loves motherhood, music, words, the arts, culture, peonies, water and all things beautiful including a just world for women and girls of color. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @kimmdlett.
Jade Perry is a student affairs professional in the area of diversity & multicultural affairs and a writer. She has been working formally in the context of religious higher education for the past few years. By night and weekend, she is a writer who regularly contributes to a variety of online platforms on topics such as culture, spirituality, entertainment and more. You can follow her on Twitter at @Jade_T_P.