Soul Food (film)

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Soul Food
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge Tillman Jr.
Produced byKenneth "Babyface" Edmonds
Tracey E. Edmonds
Michael McQuarn
Robert Teitel
Llewellyn Wells
Written byGeorge Tillman, Jr.
Music byLisa Coleman
Wendy Melvoin
CinematographyPaul Elliott
Edited byJohn Carter
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • September 26, 1997 (1997-09-26)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$7.5 million[1]
Box office$43.7 million

Soul Food is a 1997 American comedy-drama film produced by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Tracey Edmonds and Robert Teitel and released by Fox 2000 Pictures. Featuring an ensemble cast, the film stars Vanessa L. Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long, Michael Beach, Mekhi Phifer, Jeffrey D. Sams, Irma P. Hall, Gina Ravera and Brandon Hammond. Written and directed by George Tillman, Jr.-- in his major studio debut-- the film centers on the trials of an extended African-American family, held together by longstanding family traditions which begin to fade as serious problems take center stage.

Tillman based the family in the film on his own and Soul Food was widely acclaimed for presenting a more positive image of African-Americans than is typically seen in Hollywood films. In 2000, Showtime premiered a one-hour television series based upon the film. In 2015, it was announced that 20th Century Fox is planning a sequel for film called More Soul Food, written by Tillman, Jr.[2]


Soul Food is told through the eyes of 11-year-old Ahmad (Hammond), following the trials of the Joseph family, a close-knit Chicago family that gets together to have Sunday dinner every week, with plenty of soul food to go around. Mother (Big Mama) Joe (Hall) has three daughters, who each have had varying success in life: oldest daughter Teri (Williams) has become a successful lawyer, but has a strained relationship with younger sister Maxine (Fox) who stole and eventually married Teri's former boyfriend, Kenny (Sams). Teri is currently married to Miles (Beach), a lawyer who quit his job to pursue his dream of being an R&B musician, which Teri doesn't support. Youngest daughter Ryla (Long)—nicknamed "Bird"—has just opened a barbershop/beauty parlor and gotten married to Lem (Phifer), an ex-convict.

Life becomes complicated when Big Mama, the diabetic but wise and caring matriarch of the family and the glue that holds it together, suffers a debilitating stroke during an operation to amputate her leg. She slips into a coma, dying shortly after sharing a last word of advice with Ahmad, Kenny and Maxine's oldest child and her oldest and favorite grandchild, when she awakens five weeks later. Without her guidance, the family begins to fall apart in the interim:

  • Teri takes in her troubled cousin Faith (Ravera), who bonds with Miles over a love of the arts. The two have an affair and are caught having sex by Teri, which later leads to a near-violent confrontation at Kenny and Maxine's 11th wedding anniversary party when she furiously comes after the two with a butcher knife before being stopped by Kenny.
  • Lem cannot find a job due to his criminal record, so Bird makes an uneasy deal with her former boyfriend, Simuel St. James (Mel Jackson), to get Lem a job. This creates tension between Lem and Bird when he finds out and in one of their arguments, Teri overhears and mistakenly believes Lem had physically threatened her sister, at which Teri hires her cousin Blimp to teach Lem a lesson. However, when the two men get into a fight that ends with Lem pulling out a gun, the police become involved, resulting in Lem being arrested for assault and unlawful weapon possession charges. Eventually realizing her mistake, Teri calls in a few favors to have Lem released and later apologizes to him.
  • By contrast, Kenny and Maxine's relationship remains stable and they have their third child at the start of the film. However, they constantly call on Teri to pay for things for the family without paying the money back, which causes even more tension between the two oldest sisters. Eventually, after a particularly nasty argument between them at the hospital while visiting Big Mama, Teri, Maxine and their families refuse to show up the next day for Sunday dinner, thus breaking the Joseph family tradition for the first time in 40 years.
  • The tension in the family then comes to a head at Kenny and Maxine's anniversary party when, just prior to Teri's confrontation with Miles and Faith, as the adults discuss how to pay for Big Mama's mounting hospital bills, she refuses to let herself get stuck with the majority of the costs again and, partially out of anger and spite over losing yet another man (Miles) to another family member (Faith), decides to sell Big Mama's house to cover the bills, which the other adults are adamantly against. Teri, however, tells them that as guardian of Big Mama's estate and the only one paying the house's costs, she alone makes the decisions and angrily reveals her knowledge of Miles and Faith's affair when the others try to reason with her, thus leading to the aforementioned confrontation. Later, sometime after Big Mama's funeral, Maxine and Bird reveal to Teri that they have filed an injunction to stop her from selling their mother's house, seemingly setting the stage for a huge legal battle between the sisters.

Throughout these events, Ahmad becomes worried about the state of his extended family and, following Big Mama's passing, conspires to find a way to bring them all back together by telling his relatives about a stash of money that Big Mama had hidden away some time ago, but everyone dismisses him, believing it to be a myth. However, Ahmad manages to get everyone together for another Sunday dinner by promising them the whereabouts of the money. The dinner is uneasy as everyone starts to confront their issues and soon enough, thanks to Miles mentioning something about the money, they realize there is no money. Maxine chastises her son for lying, but Ahmad says tearfully that it was the only way to get everyone back together again, citing it was Big Mama's dying wish.

As Maxine comforts her son, the kitchen accidentally catches on fire due to Ahmad leaving a towel too close to the burner, and they all work together to put it out. Shortly after they extinguish the fire, Uncle Pete (John M. Watson Sr.), Big Mama's Alzheimer's stricken brother who hadn't left his room in what Ahmad says is "something like ten years now," comes down with his television and drops it to reveal the money that Big Mama had hidden away. Things start to get better for the family: Miles still comes by for Sunday dinner every now and then even though he and Teri are divorcing, Teri has made peace with Maxine and decided not to sell her mother's house, Lem and Bird are expecting their first child, Faith is finally becoming part of the family again, and Uncle Pete has started to join the family as well.

Main cast[edit]

Halle Berry and Whitney Houston were both considered for the role of Teri. Regina King, Kenya Moore and Jada Pinkett-Smith were all considered for the role of Bird. Vivica A. Fox auditioned for the role of Teri, but landed the role of Maxine instead. The character Miles (Michael Beach) plays keyboards in an R&B group called "Milestone"; the vocalists of the group are portrayed by two sibling teams of professional R&B performers: brothers K-Ci Hailey and Jo-Jo Hailey (of Jodeci and K-Ci & JoJo); and Babyface and his brothers Kevon Edmonds and Melvin Edmonds (both of After 7).[3] Malik Yoba makes a brief cameo as their studio engineer.


Soul Food was shot primarily on location in the Chicago area. A later Tillman-produced film, Barbershop, would also take place in and be shot on location in Chicago.


A soundtrack containing R&B and hip-hop was released on August 19, 1997 by LaFace Records. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 and was eventually certified 2x Multi-Platinum for over 2 million copies sold.


Soul Food received generally positive reviews from critics. It holds an 81% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 42 reviews. The film earned $43,700,855 during its original theatrical run.[4] The film opened at #3 in its opening weekend at $11,197,897 behind The Peacemaker's opening weekend and In & Out's second.[5] Williams and Fox were nominated for an Image Award for "Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture"; Williams won, while Hammond won for "Outstanding Youth Actor/Actress" and Hall won for "Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture." Phifer and Hall both appeared in HBO's 1999 adaptation of A Lesson Before Dying, the 1993 novel by Ernest J. Gaines. Hammond, Beach and Sams all appeared in the 1995 film Waiting to Exhale, where Beach played the father of Hammond. Soul Food spawned a follow-up cable television show on the Showtime network. Soul Food: The Series aired from 2000-2004 on Showtime and currently airs in reruns on TV One.

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • Acapulco Black Film Festival (1998)
    • Best Film - Winner
    • Best Actor (Michael Beach) - Nomination
    • Best Actress (Vivica A. Fox) - Winner
    • Best Actress (Vanessa L. Williams) - Nomination
    • Best Soundtrack (Various Artists) - Nomination
    • Best Director (George Tillman, Jr.) - Nomination
  • Grammy Awards (1998)
    • Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for a Television Series ("A Song for Mama", music & lyrics by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds) - Nomination
  • MTV Movie Awards (1998)
    • Best Female Performance (Vivica A. Fox) - Nomination
    • Best Song ("A Song for Mama", music & lyrics by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds) - Nomination
  • NAACP Image Awards (1998)
    • Outstanding Motion Picture - Winner
    • Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture (Vivica. A Fox) - Nomination
    • Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture (Vanessa L. Williams) - Winner
    • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (Irma P. Hall) - Winner
    • Outstanding Youth Actor/Actress (Brandon Hammond) - Winner
  • Satellite Awards (1998)
    • Best Song ("A Song for Mama", music & lyrics by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds) - Nomination

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vanessa Williams, who portrays Teri, is not to be confused with Vanessa A. Williams, who portrays Maxine in the television series based upon the film


  1. ^ "Soul Food (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 18, 2008.
  2. ^ Rebecca Ford (29 September 2015). "'Soul Food' Sequel in the Works at Fox 2000 (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  3. ^ "K-Ci and JoJo Hailey enjoy success as duo with new image, new album 'Love Always.'". Jet. 1997-11-24. Retrieved 2008-11-28. Recently, they appeared in the movie, Soul Food, as a part of the group Milestone, which consists of hit-maker Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and his brothers, After 7 group members Kevon and Melvin Edmonds. Milestone performed its love ballad I Care 'Bout You in the movie, and the song is on the platinum soundtrack for the flick.
  4. ^ "Soul Food (1997) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  5. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for September 26-28, 1997 - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 19 January 2016.

External links[edit]