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SDG

Christians and Christianity at the movies

86 posts in this topic

From the Sweeney Todd thread:

Can you name twenty Hollywood movies made since the turn of the millennium that present Christianity in a positive light? How about twenty films with recognizably Christian characters who act in a dignified or half-decent manner?

I poked around a bit looking for an appropriate existing thread to tack on a reply to this challenge, but couldn't find anything obviously right. (I did start an earlier thread about anti-Christian and anti-Catholic films, but I think a more general discussion deserves a new thread.)

Anyway, although the immediate topic of my current post has been delimited by Invisible Man's comments to comprise only positive depictions of Christians or Christianity in recent Hollywood films, I've left the thread title open to much more expansive discussion going forward.

I really should be doing something else at the moment, but I couldn't resist pulling together a quick list of titles that I think at least arguably satisfy the criteria for one or the other of IM's two categories above. I'm sure there are others.

  1. Amazing Grace
  2. America's Heart and Soul
  3. Because of Winn-Dixie
  4. Bridge to Terabithia
  5. Charlotte's Web
  6. Cinderella Man
  7. Count of Monte Cristo, The
  8. Daredevil
  9. Exorcism of Emily Rose, The
  10. Ladder 49
  11. Lars and the Real Girl
  12. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  13. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  14. Nativity Story, The
  15. New World, The
  16. Patriot, The
  17. Return to Me
  18. Rookie, The
  19. Serenity
  20. Signs
  21. 6th Day, The
  22. Spider-Man
  23. Tears of the Sun
  24. Walk to Remember, A
  25. We Are Marshall
  26. World Trade Center
  27. X2
Other thoughts? Edited by SDG

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Thanks, Steven. That's a handy list to have close at hand for those days when I'm getting letters about how good Christians will boycott Hollywood.

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Again from Sweeney Todd:

It isn't the job of filmmakers and movie executives to portray Christians positively.

That's the job of Christians.

I'm not sure asking whose "job" it is is the most helpful approach. For instance, if instead of Christians we were talking about, e.g., blacks, Jews or women, the relationship of the positive portrayal of such groups to the job descriptions of Hollywood filmmakers would probably be approximately the same, and just as irrelevant to the question of the positive or negative implications of the actual films.

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Sophie Scholl

The Last Sin Eater

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Hollywood movies, right, Steven? So Sophie Scholl wouldn't qualify.

What about Changing Lanes?

You Can Count On Me?

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I'm not sure asking whose "job" it is is the most helpful approach.

Well, what is the most helpful approach? I.e., how best to complain about it without confirming the stereotype? I think Nicolosi has a strong argument here: get more Christians involved in making films.

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Hollywood movies, right, Steven? So Sophie Scholl wouldn't qualify.

Right, along with The Ninth Day, Millions, Into Great Silence, The Passion of the Christ, The Gospel of John, Therese and others (including The Last Sin Eater, AFAIK).

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Hollywood movies, right, Steven? So Sophie Scholl wouldn't qualify.

I thought SDG said he was trying to make this thread broader than that.

What I'm trying to get at with the "whose job it is" question, I guess, is my bemusement over why Christians think they need affirmation from "Hollywood" -- whatever they mean by "Hollywood."

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I think Nicolosi has a strong argument here: get more Christians involved in making films.

I couldn't agree more (and in fact a quick perusal of the films I listed above confirms that the Christian presence in Hollywood has touched most of them). Just sitting back and grousing isn't going to solve anything. I also agree that more Christians acting more Christianly would be a huge step forward.

But, again, imagine for a moment that it wasn't Christians we were talking about, but some other group. If Hollywood pervasively portrayed blacks in a negative light, would it be a sufficient response to say, "More blacks need to get involved in filmmaking -- and there need to be more upstanding black members of society too"? Or is there a place for invoking social responsibility and basic fairness, and potentially social consequences for unresponsiveness?

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Raising Helen

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Or is there a place for invoking social responsibility and basic fairness, and potentially social consequences for unresponsiveness?

There must be such a place, God help us, but we haven't found it yet. Perhaps Ted Baehr and Bill Donohue are looking for it, but too often with pitchforks in hand.

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But, again, imagine for a moment that it wasn't Christians we were talking about, but some other group. If Hollywood pervasively portrayed blacks in a negative light, would it be a sufficient response to say, "More blacks need to get involved in filmmaking -- and there need to be more upstanding black members of society too"? Or is there a place for invoking social responsibility and basic fairness, and potentially social consequences for unresponsiveness?

That's not an apples to apples comparison. The church still has a good deal of clout (despite what the Culture War people try to tell us.) To take on the church is to take on those with power. Lots of films portraying blacks or Moslems or the poor in negative light is to add to the oppression that is so systemic in our society.

For those who see the prophetic witness as speaking truth to power, the church will often be on the receiving end of the message.

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What I'm trying to get at with the "whose job it is" question, I guess, is my bemusement over why Christians think they need affirmation from "Hollywood" -- whatever they mean by "Hollywood."

Again, I'm not sure "affirmation" is the right word for it. I also wonder -- again -- whether you would be so "bemused" if we were talking about any other group but Christians.

Are Christians human, or not? Are human beings cultural beings? Is cultural identity an integral part of human identity? Are stories and images, and specifically movies, integral parts of our cultural milieu?

Do stories and images influence how we understand ourselves in relation to our world? Do they influence how other people understand their world, including our place in their world? Do they influence expectations, assumptions, attitudes, values? Do expectations, assumptions, attitudes and values matter? Do they affect how people treat one another? Might they be a factor in general receptiveness to other points of view, including the gospel?

Did the socially conscious cinema of the 1960s matter in any way? Did the stereotyped ways that, e.g., blacks were often portrayed in earlier decades matter? Are feminists wrong to question certain aspects of how heroines are often portrayed in traditional children's stories such as fairy tales, or to want contrasting images and portrayals?

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Also, aside from The Jazz Singer, Black Like Me, Holiday Inn and several ill-advised versions of Othello, it's hard to play a black character in a movie without being ... uh ... black. Hollywood figured that out long ago. Whereas you've got presumably non-Christian actors playing Christian characters all the time.

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For the record, I'm linking to this discussion at my blog, and asking for further input there as well.

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The church still has a good deal of clout (despite what the Culture War people try to tell us.) To take on the church is to take on those with power. Lots of films portraying blacks or Moslems or the poor in negative light is to add to the oppression that is so systemic in our society.

Please be specific. What exactly is "the church" in all its "power" in a position to do to Ron Howard and Tom Hanks about The Da Vinci Code?

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Again, I'm not sure "affirmation" is the right word for it.

Then what is?

I also wonder -- again -- whether you would be so "bemused" if we were talking about any other group but Christians.

But we're not, unless you're trying to change the subject.

Are stories and images, and specifically movies, integral parts of our cultural milieu?

Not of mine.

Do stories and images influence how we understand ourselves in relation to our world? Do they influence how other people understand their world, including our place in their world? Do they influence expectations, assumptions, attitudes, values? Do expectations, assumptions, attitudes and values matter? Do they affect how people treat one another? Might they be a factor in general receptiveness to other points of view, including the gospel?

Did the socially conscious cinema of the 1960s matter in any way? Did the stereotyped ways that, e.g., blacks were often portrayed in earlier decades matter? Are feminists wrong to question certain aspects of how heroines are often portrayed in traditional children's stories such as fairy tales, or to want contrasting images and portrayals?

How about you answer a few questions before you ask any more?

Here's one, for starters: Is it not sometimes uniquely incumbent on Christians to stand apart from, or aside from, culture -- in a way that is not equally incumbent upon women and ethnic minorities? Are there not unique ways about how Christians should respond to culture? Or are they just another group?

Edited by mrmando

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You want to know where I was when I figured out I was watching too many movies and TV shows? On my therapist's couch. I was trying to explain my problems to him by using Deep Space Nine and The Miracle Worker as metaphors. Which didn't work because he hadn't seen them. I realized, "Gee, I need to find a way to explain who I am in my own terms, not in terms borrowed from popular culture."

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The church still has a good deal of clout (despite what the Culture War people try to tell us.) To take on the church is to take on those with power. Lots of films portraying blacks or Moslems or the poor in negative light is to add to the oppression that is so systemic in our society.

Please be specific. What exactly is "the church" in all its "power" in a position to do to Ron Howard and Tom Hanks about The Da Vinci Code?

Does the church need to do something to them for making a crappy movie to make money? Is the church's position in the world damaged by such things? Does anybody believe any of it? To be sure, those who have power will be the target of such things because they are easy targets. The fact that they are targets of such things really underscores that they are so well established that potshots can be taken.

Add to the list: Romero

Edited by Darrel Manson

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Then what is?

I dunno, it's your sentence. How about "openness rather than hostility" for starters? What word would you suggest if we were talking about another group?

But we're not, unless you're trying to change the subject.

That strikes me as a tactical response, not a constructive one. To seek to throw light on one subject by citing points of partial comparison is not the same as trying to change the subject.

Are stories and images, and specifically movies, integral parts of our cultural milieu?
Not of mine.

That seems unlikely, especially considering your later comments about Deep Space Nine and The Miracle Worker. For one thing, a "cultural milieu" is a shared reality; just because you figured out you were watching too many movies doesn't mean you now inhabit a non-cinematic cultural milieu, unless you moved into Amish country or something.

How about you answer a few questions before you ask any more?

I'll answer yours if you'll answer mine.

Here's one, for starters: Is it not sometimes uniquely incumbent on Christians to stand apart from, or aside from, culture -- in a way that is not equally incumbent upon women and ethnic minorities? Are there not unique ways about how Christians should respond to culture? Or are they just another group?

Christians are more than just another group. But not less. Just as the Bible is more than human literature but not less, and Jesus is more than a man but not less. All applicable literary and critical principles apply to the study of the Bible, and all applicable sociological principles apply to Christians. They are not sufficient to exhaustively plumb their depths, but they apply.

Yes, there is an extent to which Christians are uniquely obliged to stand apart from and over against culture. But don't let's rush to that as the sole dimension of the issue. St. Paul didn't hesitate to make use of his perogatives as a Roman citizen to have recourse to Roman law. We are Christians first and members of society second, but we are members of society.

You want to know where I was when I figured out I was watching too many movies and TV shows? On my therapist's couch. I was trying to explain my problems to him by using Deep Space Nine and The Miracle Worker as metaphors. Which didn't work because he hadn't seen them. I realized, "Gee, I need to find a way to explain who I am in my own terms, not in terms borrowed from popular culture."

That sounds like something I saw in a movie once.

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The Simpsons Movie

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Add to the list: Romero

Paulist Pictures is hardly "Hollywood," methinks. ;)

Did you know Alfonso Cuaron was the assistant director on Romero?

Back to our topic, another question to ponder is to what extent movies and other mass entertainment shape culture, and to what extent they merely reflect it.

If I didn't make this point obvious enough earlier, women and blacks worked in "Hollywood" for decades, playing stereotyped roles, and were thus in a position to help reshape portrayals of themselves in movies when cultural shifts came about. Yes, the films associated with those cultural shifts are significant. But I don't think anyone is prepared to seriously argue that the films caused the cultural shifts.

For one thing, a "cultural milieu" is a shared reality; just because you figured out you were watching too many movies doesn't mean you now inhabit a non-cinematic cultural milieu, unless you moved into Amish country or something.

What it does mean is that I watch very few movies and try not to ascribe too much importance to the ones I do watch.

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I'm not There

No Direction Home

Edited by solishu

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Bloody hell! I didn't expect a whole thread on this.

To SDG, I haven't seen (or even heard of) many of the films on your list. There are an awful lot of obscurities. I'm thinking that a lot of them either flopped here, or didn't actually make it across the pond. That doesn't invalidate your list, of course.

Out of curiosity, I ran a few through the IMDB:

"America's Heart and Soul" has no release date listed, and appears to be a TV programme and not a film.

"Because of Winn-Dixie" didn't get an official release and went straight to DVD.

Few here saw "Ladder 49". It got panned by the critics and closed very quickly.

"Lars and the Real Girl" doesn't open until the end of March.

"Return to Me" never opened.

"The Rookie" did open here, but I'm guessing that it flopped (baseball films don't do well here).

"We Are Marshall" didn't open (films about American football aren't popular here).

Maybe the American distributors only let us see the anti-Christian stuff? ;)

I have inevitably seen "Spider-Man", but can't recall any Christian content. Was Aunt May a Christian?

Maybe all that soft focus paganism blinded me to the Christian elements of "The New World"? ;) Or maybe it was Colin Farrell's terrible acting?

I haven't seen "The Patriot" as I refuse to watch films in which Mel Gibson gives vent to his hatred of the English.

What I'm trying to get at with the "whose job it is" question, I guess, is my bemusement over why Christians think they need affirmation from "Hollywood" -- whatever they mean by "Hollywood."

I personally wasn't looking for "affirmation". As I said earlier, I have merely grown sick of paying to be insulted, and I was seeking information about "Sweeney Todd". If I went to a bar every night and the barman kept telling me I was a moron or a Nazi, I would quickly stop going to that bar. Maybe that's a bad analogy. I'm somewhat sleepy after a big dinner.

"Hollywood" is a poor term. My apologies. In the UK, a "Hollywood movie" tends to mean anything from American mainstream cinema.

The Simpsons Movie

Isn't Ned Flanders generally perceived as a figure of ridicule? In the "Sweeney Todd" thread I wrote: "men of the cloth are usually comedic or crooked", but I guess a postmodern film like "The Simpsons" can have its cake and eat it too. :(

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Flanders, in the larger arc of the Simpsons shows (and certainly in the movie) is a bit ridiculously commited to the rules and trappings of Christianity but a GENUINE and COMPASSIONATE believer.

We should add Dead Man Walking to this list and The Big Kahuna.

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