When the new Bishop T.D. Jakes film Jumping the Broom hits theaters this weekend, Columbia Pictures Vice President DeVon Franklin might be one of the last studio executives to hear how the film performs. The 32-year-old executive, whose name is popping up on everyone’s watch list these days as a new breed of African American filmmaker in Hollywood, will likely be home, unplugged and in prayer observing the Sabbath.
In less than a decade, Franklin,a devout Seventh Day Adventist, has challenged the status quo, rising through industry ranks from Will Smith’s intern at Overbrook Entertainment to the man holding the purse strings for Columbia Pictures on films like The Pursuit of Happyness, Karate Kid, and Not Easily Broken. And unlike many who hide their faith in Hollywood, Franklin’s ascension up the industry ladder has proved that openly expressing Christian beliefs in the workplace can be an asset, not a hindrance to professional growth, ultimately leading to a powerful God-ordained purpose.
In his new book, Produced By Faith: Enjoy Real Success Without Losing Your True Self, Franklin divulges how he started viewing the progression of his life like the development and production of a feature film, with God at the helm calling each shot. From discovering his “Big Idea” of working in films, moving through “Development Hell,” and ultimately getting “God’s Green Light,” Franklin captures his very personal journey of career growth and turns it into a how-to guide for believers looking to integrate their purpose and profession.
“I was desperately looking for His will in my life.” Franklin explains. “So I had to take everything that I was aspiring for to date and put it on the altar. I said, ‘Lord if you don’t want me to be in this business, I would much rather have your will for my life than I want to have this business.’ Then I had to step back and watch how He would operate. And so for me, seeing Him open doors in this business only He could have opened was confirmation that He wanted me to continue to pursue this path.”
And operate He did. Through DeVon Franklin’s obedience to God’s will, he has been placed in a position of tremendous influence shaping the future of films of faith and showing secular Hollywood how stories of characters living with compassion, love and justice can be profitable and palatable to both mainstream and Christian audiences. And now Hollywood is starting to pay attention.
In recent years, many films have come to market with wholesome plotlines displaying a morality that’s encouraging believers and non-believers alike to spend big money at the box office. Franklin says, “No matter who you are, you should be able to come to a movie and still be able to relate to the characters you see onscreen and be impacted by the themes that the movie is addressing.” Universal appeal shouldn’t necessarily make Christians. “The word commercial sometimes has a negative connotation, but ultimately we’re making films for everybody to see.”
And those films need to be high quality. Savvy faith audiences are now demanding more than the direct-to-video Christian films of the past. Believers want quality art. Franklin acknowledges, “We want to be treated like a real audience. We want real movies. We want real movie stars. We want all of the trappings of regular Hollywood films.”
DeVon Franklin is committed to bringing that quality and universality to his audience, as in his upcoming film Jumping the Broom that The Huffington Post is praising for its refreshingly broad depiction of African-Americans and its portrayal of family conflict. The film stars heavy hitters like Angela Basset and Loretta Devine in a story of two families on opposite sides of the social spectrum joining together for the marriage of their children. Next on Franklin’s docket are two remakes of musicals, including Sparkle and the much-anticipated Annie, starring tiny showbiz titan Willow Smith.
Franklin, who is also an ordained Elder preaching at least one weekend a month at Wings of Love Maranatha Ministries in Oakland, is excited about the work before him but is taking the newfound attention to his vocation in stride and staying faithful to each step God is calling him to make. “I’m compelled to share this message and put it in the world,” he says in humble obedience. “There are so many negative things going on, I feel like wherever we can encourage and wherever we can empower I feel called to do that.”