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Film / Soul Food

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Soul Food is a 1997 comedy-drama film, written and directed by George Tillman Jr., that explores the life of three sisters, played by Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long, and Vanessa Williams. Brandon Hammond stars as Ahmad, who tells the story through his narration, via Third Person Omniscient.

The film explores issues of infidelity, race, relationships, family politics, death and bonding over the soul food that the family partakes in on numerous occasions, especially Sunday afternoons after church. A follow-up series by the same name aired on Showtime from 2000 to 2004 and is the longest-running drama with a predominantly African-American cast in prime-time history.

This film provides examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: While Kenny and Maxine named their first born and only boy Ahmad, their daughters are named Kelly and Brooke.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Teri and Miles. From the introduction of them as a couple, you can tell it's bound for disaster. All they do is argue and when Big Mama brings up the possibility of one of the sisters being pregnant, he shouts, "Don't look over here!"
  • Ax-Crazy: Teri gets a brief moment of this after she confronts Miles for cheating on her with Faith. Needless to say, it doesn't end well.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Ahmad does this to his estranged family members so he can fulfill Big Mama's wishes to reunite the family.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Maxine gives birth to her third child. In the next scene, after all that joy, it's revealed that Big Mama has to have her leg amputated. She ends up dying from complications of the surgery. Bird also realizes she's pregnant shortly afterward.
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: Subverted. In the series, what hampers Brian and Teri's attempt at a relationship isn't their racial difference, just that she simply doesn't love him the way he loves her.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: A myth among the family is that Big Mama stashed cash somewhere in the house. Turns out, its true!
  • Brutal Honesty: Bird to Teri when its revealed that she paid a cousin to assault Lem (who ended up pulling a gun on the man, thus sending him to jail) when she thought he hurt Bird. Even Maxine grimaces at how harsh it is.
    Bird: You know what, Teri? You need to mind your own damn business, all right? Didn't nobody ask you for your help! You need to worry about your own husband and why he's sleeping with her! (points to Faith).
  • Call-Back: Big Mama reminding Ahmad to never leave a rag on the stove. Near the end of the movie, Ahmad forgets and almost causes the house to burn down.
  • Characterization Marches On:
    • Everyone in the series, but Teri is the prime example. In the movie, she was portrayed as being very uptight and cynical and constantly at Maxine's throat. In the television series, she is far more sedate in personality and a real mother hen to her family and got along better with Maxine.
    • Kenny was given a lot more personality in the series versus how he was in the film, being far more vocal and an active role in the family and having his own tow truck business.
  • Cool Old Lady: Big Mama, who managed to defuse a particularly messy situation at the wedding by dancing with her new son-in-law. She also, according to Ahmad, "never made one enemy."
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Faith and Lem, who both have a long criminal records.
  • Dead Sparks: Teri and Miles. We first see them mostly disinterested in dancing together at the wedding and it all goes downhill from there.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: For Faith. It's even the reason why she doesn't have a "straight job" as she puts it.
  • Dirty Old Man: Reverend Williams, who even when saying grace at the Joseph family dinner, openly lusts after the women and gives them very unwanted advances.
  • Dramatic Shattering: Lem slams the door to Bird's salon when he finds out that she got her ex to pull some strings to get him a job.
  • A Family Affair: Miles cheats on his wife Teri with her cousin Faith.
  • Fanservice: Let's see: Lem topless, Bird in sexy lingerie and Faith seductively dancing for Miles.
  • Fille Fatale: Faith, in spades. First she goes to his group's show and flirts with Miles. Then she conveniently has him play piano for her dance audition in which she seduces him with her moves. Then they eventually have sex.
  • Food Porn: So much so that you will be left starving after the film ends.
  • Forgotten Aesop: Big Mama's family never learns from her tragic death due to stroke and diabetes complications and continue to indulge in the same unhealthy foods that killed her.
  • Gay Best Friend: Bird's fellow hairstylist. Check out his reaction to seeing Lem's er—private parts.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Among all the sisters, but primarily between Maxine and Teri. Understandable, as she stole Kenny from her when they were teenagers.
  • Happily Ever After: Everyone. Seriously. They even accept Faith back into the family and it's mentioned that Miles still drops by occasionally even after he and Teri split.
  • Happily Married: Maxine and Kenny, very much so. The film has them celebrating their wedding anniversary and both of her sisters express jealousy for her marriage.
  • Hello, Attorney!: The beautiful lawyer, Teri, in both the film and television versions. Many of her clients and her coworkers would also qualify as such.
  • His Name Is...: Big Mama dies before completing her sentence to a confused Ahmad.
  • Hypocrite: The entire family criticizes Teri for being so career-focused, even though they all enjoy the income of her high paying job.
  • I Don't Want to Ruin Our Friendship: The excuse Teri consistently gives Brian for rebuffing his advances. Sure enough, when they do attempt a relationship, it falls apart very quickly due to her myriad of issues.
  • The Immodest Orgasm: Bird and Lem sneak off to have a quickie. Lem enjoys it so much that she stuffs her panties into his mouth to muffle his groans!
  • Informed Flaw: Bird can't cook. And everyone knows it. Hell, even senile Uncle Pete seems to know automatically that she cooked the meal she served him and rejects it, resulting in a Funny Moment.
  • I Warned You: Teri threatens Faith to stay in line when she moves in with her and Miles. It doesn't end well for Faith when she can't comply.
  • Jerkass: Teri, Lem and Miles in the film. Teri and Lem get better in the series, though.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Maxine chides Teri for always reminding people that she pays for everything, but Teri points out that that's exactly what she does, with everyone automatically assuming that she will and not even having the decency to ask her or thank her.
    • She's portrayed as a bitch for not supporting Miles' musical aspirations, but she's right hat he'd be foolish to abandon his steady, well-paying law profession for something nowhere near as reliable or profitable even under the best of circumstances.
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: Bird is never addressed by her real name, Robin.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Faith is an example to an extent for Miles, although she does more harm than good.
  • Mood Whiplash: Right after the birth of a child, its immediately announced that Big Mama needs her leg amputated to live.
  • Never My Fault: At one point Ahmad and Kelly try to force their way into Uncle Pete's room, but after he shuts the door on them, Kelly runs off crying that he was messing with them.
  • New Old Flame: Bird's ex Simuel St. James. You can tell this guy is nothing but trouble. And then you have to question Bird for letting him touch her suggestively in her wedding gown. Doesn't exactly help that Lem is dancing sexually with his ex-girlfriend at the wedding as well.
  • Noodle Incident: Faith's questionable past is brought up by Teri upon her moving in. It includes her going to jail and having Big Mama put up the house to post her bail.
  • Nutritional Nightmare: Seriously, they eat like this every week? No wonder Big Mama has diabetes! Cartoon series The Boondocks would later converse this in an episode.
  • Parental Favoritism: Mama Joe clearly favors her happily married, mother-of-three middle daughter Maxine over successful workaholic older daughter Teri and naive youngest daughter Bird.
  • Precision F-Strike: Teri. And with good reason.
    Kenny: Your mother left this house here for the family, for you, and your family—
    Teri: Oh, fuck the family! I let the family in the house and you know what? The family fucked my husband. Yeah, Faith fucked my husband!
    Maxine: Miles...
    Miles: Teri.
    Teri: Huh? "Teri", what? Is that all you have to say?
    Miles: Teri, can we talk about this?
    Teri: Can we talk about what?! FUCK YOU! [pulls out a butcher knife on him and starts chasing him out the kitchen as the family tries to stop her]
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Maxine delivers a small one to Teri while in the hospital. Ahmad also manages to give one to his bickering family after they initially try to blame him for lying about the reason why he summoned them to have Sunday dinner.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: A mild version. Bird's ex demands that she have dinner with him in exchange for getting Lem a job.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: How Teri manages to both get Lem thrown in jail and later removed from jail.
  • Surprise Pregnancy: For Bird and at the worst possible time.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: The film clearly wants the viewer to think this about Miles, given his and Teri's unhappy marriage and the way Faith is portrayed as genuinely caring about him, listening to him, and supporting his musical ambitions.
  • Unconfessed Unemployment: Lem is completely against the idea of letting Bird know he got fired. So much so that Kenny lends him money to keep up the charade.
  • The Unfavorite: Poor Teri. Her own mother completely dismisses her accomplishments—making partner in her law firm—and practically taunts her about being on her second marriage, while openly gushing over Maxine, who just had her third child. The entire family seems to have this attitude, even though Teri's career has helped them quite a bit.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Teri's money has paid for Ahmad's private school tuition, Bird's wedding, and Bird's business, yet her dialogue indicates that she's gotten nary a "Thank you" from any of these people.
  • Wall Bang Her: Miles and Faith have sex against a wall. Unfortunately, Teri catches them.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: At the beginning of the film, Lem was seen grinding with his ex-girlfriend at his wedding reception. As Teri, Maxine and Bird then decide to beat the woman up, they return to the dance floor and see Mama Joe dancing with him instead while the woman nowhere to be seen. This is never addressed further.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Subverted. Lem in a furious rage lashes out at Bird. Though he doesn't hit her, he does push her a bit and she's visibly shaken afterwards.