Gospel music is a lot like the minor leagues of baseball: it exists and does well, but it’s not usually on the forefront of people’s minds in the media universe, and, thus, the general population.
So Gospel music plods along with artists singing in churches, at revivals, and even oddly named “crusades,” and there’s a whole system built up where you’ve got super famous artists like Kirk Franklin and Yolanda Adams— the superstars of black Gospel who may or may not be known by the general population– and then less known figures who none-the-less make a living singing about the Lord to congregations who want to praise and worship God– people like Lucinda Moore, Shirley Murdock, and Deitrick Haddon.
Every now and then someone making a living at Gospel music makes that jump to being a “superstar,” and with Deitrick Haddon, he’s close to becoming a household name among black families in America because he works so darn hard at doing what he does, and doing it well.
Case in point: Deitrick, never resting, makes a movie called “Blessed & Cursed,” and stars in it. Then he does the soundtrack to it, too. That’s a lot of work, and it could have come across as laughable, but he managed to do a decent job at keeping my attention, and I think most black people I know who are churchgoers will want to see, and probably own, this movie.
It’s pretty rare that the black church experience gets shown for an entire movie; usually it’s just a scene or two that glosses over what goes on behind-the-scenes of today’s churches. So most films show a singer backed by a choir looking at the main character in the audience who is supposed to be moved and/or changed by that powerful Gospel song. Imagine, though, a film from start to finish where the main character is a conflicted young man who gets caught up in church business, gets famous for singing there, and then finds his life unravel quite a bit when the powers-that-be come against him. That describes “Blessed & Cursed.”
Filmed in Detroit, everything about the way this movie was filmed makes it feel gritty, as if someone followed Deitrick around with a camera phone and, indeed, this being a “Gospel film,” there are parts of the movie where the technical aspects are amateur– awkward cuts and edits, messed up sound– but not too “poorly done” to bother people. For what it is, with a presumably small budget, the film is really darn good. As a suburban white person, I love how “Blessed & Cursed” takes me into the heart of Detroit and shows me characters who talk in Ebonics and live in a culture that’s as inner-city as inner-city gets.
Karen Clark-Sheard, the noted Gospel singer, plays Deitrick’s mom in the film. She has nothing to do, not even sing, except die, which leads Deitrick’s character, the music man at the big church, to run off to the strip joint, for which he gets caught and blackmailed later on. Meanwhile, Kiki Sheard plays Deitrick’s little sister. She isn’t given much to do either, but it is cool to see her in a movie.
Deitrick’s real-life wife plays a hoochie he’s having lots and lots of sex with, before the Bishop of the big church asks him to come be their music man. Damita Haddon plays this hoochie so well, and when she tells him off in his truck about how she ain’t down with him being more into God than sex with her, “you betta believe it!” In other words, she plays the part of a ghetto beeyatch perfectly– you will be scared of her.
The ex-girlfriend, though, fades outta the picture fast, and Deitrick’s character gets down to business being the new music star of the power-hungry Bishop’s church. The “big moment” of the film is when the Bishop is getting essentially “crowned” as the presiding Bishop for a whole network of churches at the big convocation, where Deitrick’s supposed to sing, but Bishop basically tells the congregation, “There’s no time for him to sing, let us pray…” It’s a power struggle, and pride cometh before the fall.
Deitrick’s character tries not to be hurt by how Bishop dissed him like that, but his friends are none too pleased. Then, when Mama dies unexpectedly, Deitrick’s character veers away from God. Eventually, at the end of the film, he comes back to “living right,” his own father gets to pastor a church, and all is well.
Now one of the most memorable scenes in all of “Blessed & Cursed” was when white-haired Rance Allen comes in and wants to “check out this new guy.” They sing together, and for lovers of Gospel music, THIS scene is the one must-see scene in the whole film– I’d love to see it on YouTube sometime. I don’t know much about Rance Allen, except that he has been around for decades and is well-respected in the black community. I heard him singing on a Kirk Franklin joint years back, so that’s how I knew the name– and when he walks into the church and s-a-n-g-s with Deitrick and crew, I was like, “Whoa!” He reminded me of the male version of Aretha Franklin– he seems to live and breathe each note, with gusto!
Tyscot put this movie out, described as “straight to DVD” on wikipedia, though I know it has been shown in individual theaters in places like Memphis, and on “gmc” (Gospel Music Channel, which used to be great, and is now mostly reruns of ‘family-friendly’ dramas). Tyscot also released its soundtrack.
One thing about Deitrick Haddon is he is “mad cool.” He reminds me of Kirk Franklin and Tye Tribbett, because wherever he goes, that’s where the party’s at! The soundtrack has 12 joints, including “I’m Blessed,” by Haddon, “More Like You,” by Michelle Williams, and “Breath Away” by Damita.
If you are black, Christian (“Saved!”), and go to church once or more than once a week, this movie is for you. My guess is Deitrick wanted this movie to go beyond the borders of the black church, but it’s SO about the black church, that my thought is 90% of viewers will be “already sanctified saints” and about 10% will be the “heathens” black Gospel tries to reach every once in a while.