28 Days of Black Movies: I will never ever leave a towel on a stove because of ‘Soul Food’

OPINION: The 1997 film that ruined it for cousins named Faith also taught me a lesson I will never forget.

Soul Food
“Soul Food” (Twentieth Century Fox)

I don’t feel like the movie Soul Food, the 1997 family dramedy starring Vivica Fox, Vanessa Williams, Nia Long, Mekhi Phifer and Michael Beach (among others), truly gets its due. You rarely hear people talking about it when discussions about best Black movies come up, though I think it’s a really good movie.

The soundtrack was banoodles; the movie even created a whole new musical group called Milestone—Michael Beach’s character Miles was a musician with a band (Milestone) when he wasn’t smashing family members-in-law, though, I suppose he really was doing both at the same time. Hell, Soul Food kind of put Keirra Sheard-Kelly’s whole “my friends stay at hotels when they come to visit” stance in a vice grip; if you can’t even trust family, can you really trust a friend? For the record, I think that stance is ridiculous. 

The movie also totally ruined it for cousins named Faith. I’ll bet if you have a cousin named Faith who was a young adult when this movie came out, she started catching side-eyes and random blurtings of “and you bet’ not *CENSOR* my husband while I’m out!” if she was even left along with anybody’s husband at all. It’s amazing how pop culture works, right? 

You know another thing that Soul Food did? It taught me, or shall I say, reinforced a very important lesson: Don’t be leaving towels on the stove!

In the movie, Ahmad (Brandon Hammond), the oldest child of Kenny (Jeffrey Sams) and Maxine (Fox), has a habit of leaving a towel on the stove. He is reminded not to do it by Big Mama (Irma P. Hall) early in the movie. Writers like to call that foreshadowing because sure as shooting, as the movie unfolds and family dramas unravel, and the family falls apart after Big Mama’s passing, Ahmad tries to bring the family together over Sunday dinner, the family tradition that Big Mama quarterbacked. Well, since the family was in shambles and folks were mad at one another, and various folks weren’t talking, and nobody wanted to be there, Ahmad had to lie to everybody about money Big Mama told him was hidden away in the house. In doing so, he tried to get the Sunday dinner going. Once everybody figured out what happened—Ahmad tricking everybody into being there—he ran out of the kitchen, threw the towel on the stove like he always does and effectively set the house on fire. 

Vivica Fox, Vanessa Williams and Nia Long in “Soul Food.” (Twentieth Century Fox)

In their case, while this was a terrible thing, it ended up being a good thing because it turns out Ahmad wasn’t wrong. Uncle Pete came running out of the house with his television that was full of money that Big Mama had been hiding. Happy endings, etc. 

But here’s the thing: Soul Food felt like my mama talking to me. Like, because it was said more than once, I took that lesson as some kind of truth. To this day, I will not leave a kitchen towel on the stove, and I always think about Soul Food if I see one. One day, my wife left a towel on the stove, and it compelled me to ask her if she’d seen Soul Food—she said she had—and I told her it surprised me because I felt like if she had, she wouldn’t leave towels on the stove. 

I suppose that lesson didn’t hit the same for her as it did for me, though I bet if she had a cousin Faith, she couldn’t stay over; I do not know if my wife has a cousin named Faith, but I know nobody named Faith has ever stayed overnight at our house. Is this because of Soul Food? One may never know. 

Also, I don’t have a mysterious Uncle Pete living in a room in my house, so I’m way less inclined to believe that a house fire might lead to financial largesse for me and my family. 

That Soul Food, such a good movie. And instructional, too.


Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

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