First thing first, I’m not a religious guy. Far from it. When our EIC showed us the trailer for Come Sunday though. I was intrigued. Especially as it is based on the true story of Carlton Pearson. This isn’t a going to be a feel-good type of story. Directed by Joshua Marston, Come Sunday is a rough journey through what happens when you stick to your guns and try to bring a new idea to an old way of thinking.
Who’s Carlton Pearson?
It’s 1998 and we’re introduced to renown evangelical pastor Carlton Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as he strikes up a conversation with a lawyer (Allie McCulloch) who isn’t as close to God as she used to be. Carlton offers to save her on the plane ride, asking her to pray with him. We then see Carlton recounting the story to his church in a sermon. Personally, I’m like damn you just goin’ spill her business like that?
I wanna state that Chiwetel can play any role. Dude is charismatic and funny and embodies the pastor efficiently and effectively. The mastery over engaging a crowd translates well on film.
A Changed Man
Everything changes when Carlton sees news of the Rwandan Genocide on television. Carlton then wonders, how is it fair that these children are doomed to hell (by what he’s been brought to believe) because they didn’t accept Jesus into their hearts? Carlton has an epiphany and hears God speaking to him. Thereafter, he offers a different interpretation of bible passages during a sermon (a televised one at that, in Tulsa, Oklahoma mind you). Carlton preaches that as Jesus died for our sins, we don’t need to be saved. He already saved you. (Hella gasps.) It’s a new take that does not go over well. We see Carlton’s world begin to cave in around him.
Members of the church leave the congregation. Henry (Jason Segel), his right-hand man, can’t stay and back him. Oral Roberts (Martin Sheen), who considered Carlton his Black son, makes him question if perhaps it was the devil he was hearing and not God. Oral’s son Richard (Rick Reitz) slanders ya
mans pastor and dem something fierce on television. Again, this church game is rough if you don’t stick to the script, homie. Segel and Sheen really played into their characters well. Both have vastly different supporting roles in Carlton’s life and now find themselves at a choice. Henry and Carlton’s relationship moves to the center of the film.
A Difficult Balance
Come Sunday offers a subliminal look at the church community in a sense man. As long as you stick to the plan things are all good, however, new interpretations or deviations is where you lose people. My man talked that real about picking and choosing which aspects of God we want to worship because if we worship that wrathful God, he was a monster. (YOH! They did not like that bar in the balcony.) Carlson, trying to explain himself, tells the congregation “I’ve heard you all in your times of confusion and need, I’m just asking you to hear where I’m coming from”. It’s funny how quickly folks can label you a heretic when at the root, Carlton’s message is one of inclusion. (Fam, you really mad at dude finding a way for people facing a genocide to get into heaven and not be damned? People taking issue with that seem the real problem here, but I digress.)
Yo, this isn’t by any means a feel-good story. It’s a story of the changes in the status quo when sticking to what you believe. Knowing that it isn’t wrong (at least to you), just different. We see those that stand by Carlton in Keisha (Tracey Bonner), choir leader Reggie (Lakeith Stanfield), and (MVP in my eyes) Carlton’s wife Gina Pearson (Condola Rashad). Condola Rashad played her part perfectly. You could tell how Gina was fed up with certain aspects of their marriage with the church coming first always and her role as the bishop’s wife. However, when she sees that change in Carlton and their life’s downsizing, ya girl was unphased.
Gina becomes prominent in convincing Carlton that who he is now is better than who he was. I was invested in her character just as much as Lakeith Stanfield’s Reggie, who is gay. We see how problematic some of Carlton’s view were as he is trying to do right but also stick to the old views. He tells Reggie “being gay and doing Gay are two different things” (insert screw face). This statement is revisited as Pearson comes around to a different way of thinking.
Netflix Breaks The Mold Again
There’s mad cold shit in Come Sunday that could have done with more exploration. The notes were hit on race, sexuality, and church politics, leaving you wanting to dive deeper. The viewer can relate to many aspects of this movie. That is what makes Netflix a great platform for this story. I’m someone that enjoys the story of a fall from grace and this is that story. Carlton’s journey back up gets wrapped up in a subtle manner that works for the film. I honestly didn’t know I would enjoy it that much. It would take a lot to watch again, but I do feel it’s one of those stories that stays with you. Especially in getting across how difficult it is to get the message of inclusion into the church at times. However, there are people doing it and as it plays out there is a subtle poetic justice (I tried to find a different word, I swear) that plays out toward the end with specific characters and events.
It’s hard for me to find a box to put Come Sunday in. It’s something you gotta watch to appreciate in your own way. Pearson is trying to do one thing with inclusion, however, it is still flawed. Not to the point where you’re like “this fucking guy” but more so seeing and noting the problematic issues as they appear. It’s like seeing someone trying to do right within the confines of their own little bubble and then finally breaking through it in the choice to preach of the love of God instead of his fear. Check it out for yourselves on April 13th, 2018 on Netflix.