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Hollywood or Holy-wood?

Image from Paramount Pictures

It’s that time of the year again, where meatless Fridays reign supreme and the Christian faith reaches its peak. Yes, it’s the Lenten Season once again, and with it comes an array of Hollywood films centered on hope, family, and best of all, religion.

Films such as Noah and God’s Not Dead were released in the latter part of March this year, and released prior to these two films was the Mark Burnett produced film, Son of God.  This 2014, moviegoers can expect more Christian-centric movies, including the release of Heaven is for Real on April 16, 2014, and of Christian Bale’s Exodus: Gods and Kings in December.

So, what is Hollywood’s new fascination with faith-driven films? And why start making more of them now?

Well, for one, these films can generate high revenue for the production company involved. Both Noah and God’s Not Dead placed in the top 5 of the American Box Office during its opening weekend, with Noah grossing around $43 million.  Additionally, Son of God also produced surprising numbers as it grossed around $60 million during its worldwide release. It also helped that majority of the world still practices religion–with 2.1 billion Christians, 1.5 billion Muslims, 900 million Hindus, 376 million Buddhists and 23 million Sikhs.

However, DeVon Franklin, the senior Vice President of Columbia Pictures, has another reason for this growing trend. He says it’s because the film industry has now taken into account the wants of the viewers–specifically satisfying their requests for more “faith affirming, life affirming, uplifting and inspirational” films. For him, these films are answers to the wants of many moviegoers, which is why more film-makers are taking this direction.

But the question still remains: why start now? Throughout many years, Hollywood has avoided any religious affiliation in film and focused more on a more controversial theme. In 2006, they even released The Da Vinci Code a film which many considered blasphemous and offensive to the Christian faith. They even followed the movie up with the sequel, Angels and Demons, to which many were outraged.  Given these films, why would film-makers create more Christian-centric films now?

In an interview with Fox News, Hollywood Film Marketer Mark Joseph says that it is due to the new form of management in the film industry.  “There’s a new generation of Hollywood executives coming up who aren’t as ideological and political as their older counterparts. They’re about the bottom line and aren’t as knee-jerk against religious material as previous generations,” he explains. More of these film-makers are becoming open to the concept of religious centered films and the possible positive effects it could bring to the viewers.

The Catholic Church even approves of the movie industry’s sudden shift in theme. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington DC, even says that the film, Son of God allows viewers to “see what those who lived in the time of Jesus experienced.”  Cardinal Wuerl implies that watching this film allows viewers to relate to these historic figures and empathize with them. More than that, it allows the viewers to understand better the sacrifices that had to be made to reach the salvation, which Jesus has prophesized.  Indeed, this movie has helped other Christians better understand the doctrine and even has allowed them to reflect on their own faith, as evidenced by moviegoer and CEO of the Dove Foundation, Dick Rolfe. He said watching Son of God renewed his faith, as he felt Christ’s pain on the cross and Mother Mary’s heartbreak in losing her child. Rolfe even went on naming the film as “The Best Biblical Account on the Life of Jesus!”  in his review for Christian Cinema.

Not only that, some non-believers have also watched and enjoyed some of these movies.  For instance, Noah, which focused on the biblical story of Noah’s ark, sparked curiosity and intrigue among some atheists and agnostics. Sean Markey, a former film maker, affirms this by saying that non-believers “don’t have to believe the Creation story to see why it could make a fun movie.  Just embrace the absurdity of it and enjoy the (magic boat) ride!”

Despite this, there are still some downsides to these films. For instance, God’s Not Dead, which tells the story of college student Josh Wheaton’s  journey to disprove his professor’s claim that God is dead,  was said to be too biased to the Christian faith and insensitive to other religions. Bob James, in his IMDB review, said that the movie was a “hypocritical piece of propaganda” that intentionally made every non-Christian character in the film to appear to be “an idiot, a terrible person, an abusive father, and a God hater.” Bob James discouraged this film, so much so, that he even entitled his review “The Most Offensive Movie I’ve ever seen.” It is true that there is a tendency for these films to become biased, a little too preachy, and discriminatory to other religious practices. Therefore, moviegoers must also be wary of what they watch and not let it affect them greatly.

So what can Filipino viewers expect from the release of these films, especially during the Lenten Season?

Seeing that the Philippines is a dominant Christian-practicing country, the effects of these movies may be more uplifting rather than detrimental.  Just consider the highest rated drama series May Bukas Pa, which tells the story of Santino and his encounters with God. It centered on religion and in turn allowed Filipinos to see their faith in a different light. With the release of these international movies to the Philippines, more Filipinos may consider re-evaluating their faith for the better, which would be most ideal during this Lenten Season.

Although not all these faith-centric films are well-received, moviegoers might gain something by embracing Hollywood’s new cinematic trend and supporting these films.

 

By Francesca Militar

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