This fall, the comedy Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. — starring Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown as Southern Baptist scammers sweating to re-open their megachurch after a public scandal — will not just herald the ascendance of a fresh new comic filmmaker. It will introduce viewers to two sharp and funny filmmakers, actually: Identical twins Adamma and Adanne Ebo, 31-year-old double Geminis from Atlanta, Georgia, who grew up playing basketball at the same sprawling house of worship where their film was shot. “I’m not sure what double Gemini means,” Adamma says over Zoom from Atlanta, where she’s directing a show created by Donald Glover. “But people are always like, ‘Oh, wow.’”
As children, Adamma and Adanne attended service two or three times a week. On the other days, they read Harry Potter, which, like Halloween – “the devil’s holiday,” Adamma jokes – was forbidden for promoting magic and evil. “One of our earliest bouts with really questioning organized religion was we remember the pastor dedicated an entire sermon to the evils of Harry Potter,” Adanne adds from the twins’ home in Inglewood. “Everything that he was saying that was bad or evil about it, it was just very clear to us [that], Oh, he has not read the books — because none of this shit happens. Magic’s not real. We tried!”
In fact, Adanne met her long-term boyfriend in high school waiting outside a bookstore to buy a hardcover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The elder by 17 minutes, she identifies as a Ravenclaw — curious, analytical, perfectionist — while Adamma is a Slytherin, meaning confident, stubborn and loyal. Adamma is also the more lackadaisical twin, both admit. When their Sunday school teacher preached no sex before marriage, it was Adanne who raised her hand and asked what counted as sex.
“I got in trouble for it!” she yelps. “Make it make sense.”
“And rarely could people make it make sense.”
“They discouraged asking questions which was antithetical to how we were raised.”
“Being Christian is a lot,” Adamma says. “There’s just no possible way you’re going to do everything by the book, so that inherently is going to create some sort of duality in you.”
The Ebos often finish each other’s sentences. Sometimes, they answer in unison. Their clothes and hair coordinate. Even their Instagram posts tend to match, and, on Halloween, their costumes always share a nerdy fangirl theme: Underrated Animated Villains. 1990s Playstation Video Games. Black Faves from Disney Channel Original Movies. Black Heroes on Their Day Off.
As the daughters of two highly educated Nigerian immigrants (their father is a dentist; their mother has a PhD in molecular biology), they decided in middle school they’d become lawyers. Both enrolled in Spelman, an all-female HBCU, and stuck to their plan up until the day of the LSAT exam, when Adanne glanced over at Adamma’s desk and realized, to her alarm, that she was daydreaming instead of paying attention to the test. During a break, Adanne pulled her sister aside for an emergency reality check.
“I was like, ‘If you fuck up the test, we’re not going to get into the same school and then we will have to be apart,’” Adanne recalls saying. “’What could you be thinking about right now when you’re supposed to be focusing on our joint future?’”
The answer was Kiki’s Delivery Service, the 1989 Hayao Miyazaki cartoon about a young witch who loses her powers and plunges into a crisis of self. Adanne listened as her sister rambled seemingly random thoughts about the movie – “just, like, word-vomiting all this stuff,” Adamma says – and when the babbling stopped, Adanne exhaled and told her sister she should go to film school. For the first time in their lives, they split up: Adanne to Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law in Chicago, Adamma to UCLA for an MFA in directing.
“It was traumatic, quite frankly,” Adamma says.
“It sent us both into therapy.”
“We had to learn how to not see each other every day.”
How many times a day do they need to talk?
“How many times?” Adanne asks. “It’s non-stop.”
“Unless one of us is asleep or in a meeting. We were literally texting right up until the last moment we hopped on this Zoom.”
In the (relative) silence, Adamma began to write the script that would become Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul. She put some of her loneliness into the characters of Trinitie and Lee-Curtis Childs, a married couple dealing with fractures in their own partnership as the First Lady and Pastor of the fictional Greater Paths Baptist Church in Atlanta. Preaching has made the Childs rich. (They share an addiction to sequins and Italian leather shoes.) But Lee-Curtis’ sexual misconduct has also made them pariahs in their own community. Worse yet, it may even make them poor, as rival preachers Shakura and Keon Sumpter (Nicole Baharie and Conphidance) hustle to poach their flock.
The egotistical pair are confident that their 25,000-person congregation believes in divine forgiveness — or, at least, a dazzling spectacle that includes Praise Mimes, a totally real art-form that is exactly what it sounds. (You can find it on YouTube.) To prove it, the Childs invite a documentary crew to film the weeks leading up to their grand Easter Sunday reopening. And if on her husband’s path to redemption, Trinitie holds his head underwater a little too long during a new baptism, she’s still going to keep grinning for the camera.
Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. was first filmed as a short, and then expanded into a feature after Adamma’s script was selected for the 2019 Sundance Screenwriting Intensive. Smartly, the Ebos refuse to write off any of their characters as buffoons. Lee-Curtis is a narcissist. Yet, after he pleads his case – “God is not in the business of making perfect men,” Brown says, eyes moist with pain – his wife is convinced that her flawed husband can still do good in this world. Or, as Trinitie finally wails, “We are doing the best we fucking can! God bless!” (It hits select theaters and starts streaming on Peacock on September 2nd.)
Adamma knew she loved to write and direct. But she loathed the behind-the-scenes mechanics of actually getting a film made. “You have to talk to far too many people and look at far too many spreadsheets,” she says. “It just doesn’t make sense in my brain.” So when Adanne graduated from law school and plunged into her own career crisis, it was her turn to get the hard-sell to go Hollywood and produce her sister’s short films.
“As I was learning about what producers do, I was like, Oh, this makes a lot of sense for Adanne,” Adamma says. “Basically, we each got each other in the industry.”
“From our experience, things are way more complex and way messier than people give them credit for,” Adamma says. “It’s very rarely super clear, or black and white.”
“That’s why we went down the faux-documentary path,” Adanne adds. “We wanted to have a conversation about truth, about what is and what isn’t truth. Whats in between the lines of truth. What’s one person’s truth that isn’t another persons truth.”
“This is a conversation we need to have. Nobody talks about this in the Black church,” Adamma continues. “Maybe it’ll be received in the way that we want, which is simply for people to do what we were doing our entire lives: Asking questions, not just being complicit and just taking things at face value.”
Is that the reaction they’re expecting from their hometown congregation?
“We’ve given that to God,” says Adanne. “It goes over however it goes over.”
On set, the Ebos gave the cast and crew a cheat-code to tell them apart. Adamma wore her hair in pink braids; Adanne, blue. They aren’t the first identical twin filmmakers – comedians Kenny and Keith Lucas co-wrote and produced Judas and the Black Messiah – or even the first identical twin sister filmmakers, thanks to the horror duo Sylvia and Jen Soska, who beat them to that title a decade before. Most sibling duos are brothers, as in the Coens, Weitzes, Russos, Sadfies, etc.
“There’s just a different dynamic, I think, between sisters and brothers?” Adamma muses. “A lot of sisters that I’ve met are like, ‘Oh, I love my relationship with my sister – and thus we shall never work together because it will ruin it.’”
Simply joint-helming their own company, Ejime Productions – meaning “twins” in Nigerian – already makes the Ebos a startlingly unusual tag-team. “It’s intimidating,” Adanne says. “We get that a lot.”
Laughs Adamma, “‘One woman, we’ll let it slide. Two? Like, this is a whole lot, guys.’”
With a growing list of projects on their slate — including an animated superhero series starring identical twins — the industry’s just going to have to adjust.
“We were born a partnership. We’re going to die a partnership,” Adanne insists.
Adamma nods: “We want to be buried next to each other.”