Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Has Hollywood Found Religion? - Part 1

According to the Christian Film and Television Commission, who publishes an annual report to the entertainment industry, positive content and family-friendly movies substantially perform better at the box office than R-rated movies. The Commission reports that since its conception in 1993 there has been a 200% increase in family movies and a 425% increase in positive Christian content. Today they report that 59% of all movies released by the major studios have some positive, specific Christian content or values. The Christian Film and Television Commission’s report is based on actual box-office figures.

Is this true? Do movies today reflect more of a Christian or Biblical worldview? Has Hollywood found religion? First of all, statistics can be used and shaped to present whatever narrative you wish to communicate. I’m not saying that’s what the Commission has done. But have they looked at the complete picture? These are complicated questions with no easy answers.

I’m not convinced Hollywood has found religion. Contrary to what many may believe, Hollywood and the entertainment industry has no political, religious or social agenda. They are not interested in corrupting the minds of our youth. I know you might find this hard to believe. In fact, at one time I believed it. But after talking to many industry insiders, Hollywood is interested in one thing and one thing only, and that’s making money. If they believe that family-friendly movies will make more money than explicit films with sex, language and violence, what do you think they will do?

There is no question that the overall content from the six major studios, Disney, Fox, Universal, Warner Brothers, Sony and Paramount, has substantially improved since the early 1990s. There are more movies being produced that reflect positive values and redemptive messages. I’m not sure a film like The Blind Side would have been made 15 years ago. It obviously had a positive message with a clear-cut Christian worldview. It was a financial success because the studio got behind the film. It made $255 million at the box office and was nominated for Best Picture.

What was also interesting from last year was the number of R-rated movies with redemptive stories. That included Up in the Air and Crazy Heart. But not everything is good news. The Hangover was the sixth biggest grossing movie at $277 million. It contained a heavy dose of sex and debauchery.

I believe there are four reasons that help to explain this turnaround in positive content as well as three issues that we should be concerned about. In other words, it’s not time to throw a party and celebrate yet.

Reason 1

God is at work in Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Even during the darkest hours of Hollywood, God has never left the scene. His Spirit has been moving and influencing filmmakers. Case in point: During the early 1980s, Chariots of Fire and Places in the Heart are two films that clearly presented a Christian worldview. This occurred when many Christians were boycotting and demonizing Hollywood. So, at some level, Hollywood has always been presenting some form of Christian content whether they realized it or not. Perhaps we have not been able to see or define it. And since the early 1990s, there is no question that God’s Spirit has been moving in this industry.

Today there is a beachhead established in Hollywood with over 5,000 Christians working in the entertainment industry. There is no question they have made an impact on this turnaround concerning positive content in the film industry. On a recent trip, I had an opportunity to interview Christian leaders who work inside Hollywood. Dr. Larry Poland, founder of MasterMedia, has quietly been ministering to entertainment leaders for over 25 years. No one will ever know just how much influence or the impact he has had on the entertainment industry.

I also talked to the executive director of Act One. For over ten years, Act One has been training Christians to write commercially from a Christian perspective for Hollywood. Today, some of their students have reached a point in their careers where they are now working on major television and film projects.

I also interviewed Karen Cavell, Founder of Hollywood Prayer Network, who has been encouraging Christians for the past 15 years to pray for Hollywood and embrace the entertainment industry as a mission field. The fact is there are many Christians in Hollywood who are part of this incredible turnaround. It’s only a beginning. But something substantial is taking place.

Friday Part 2

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