By Jacqueline J. Holness
While going to the movies is one of my favorite pastimes year-round, it is especially fun to escape the heat for a bit in the cool caverns of movie theaters in the thick of summer. Thankfully one of the fun ways that Christianity, or faith in general, can impact American culture is through the movies that release each year.
Earlier this year Barna Group surveyed Americans regarding their movie viewing habits and discovered some interesting trends. According to the article “La La Land to Living Rooms: A Year in Movies,” 67 percent of Americans viewed at least one movie at the theater in 2016—21 percent viewed at least 1 to 2 films, and 16 percent viewed 3 to 5 films.
This year’s Academy Awards highlighted two faith-themed movies. The first was the Mel Gibson-directed Hacksaw Ridge. This depicted the real-life story of American pacificist and Army medic Desmond T. Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist, who refused to bear weaponry during World War II. The Medal of Honor winner reportedly said “Lord, please help me get one more” after each life he rescued and was credited with saving nearly 100 men in the battle of Okinawa.
Silence by Martin Scorsese was also nominated at the Academy Awards. Two Jesuit priests journey to Japan to find their missing mentor and spread Catholicism during the 17th century. While the movie is not based on a true story, the movie is based on the novel by the same name that “draws upon the missionaries who came to 17th Century Japan during a time when Japanese Christians were being persecuted and priests were being hunted,” according to a Bustle.com article.
While two faith-themed films were honored on the worldwide platform of the Oscars, Barna researchers reported that “audiences are often conflicted about Hollywood’s treatment of Christianity.” Around 11 percent believe that Hollywood’s portrayal of Christianity is “generally negative,” whereas 13 percent believe it is “generally positive”; and 28 percent of Americans believe it is “sometimes negative and sometimes positive.”
However, among Americans who are practicing Christians, 20 percent believe that Hollywood’s portrayal of Christianity is negative, and that percentage is doubled for Evangelical Christians. In addition, Barna researchers learned that although only 5 percent of respondents noted that Christian-oriented films “caused them to change something they believed about the Christian faith,” 16 percent “were made to think more seriously about religion, spirituality or their religious faith after seeing certain movies.”
Faith-themed movies in 2017 continue to garner attention and accolades. The Shack, based on The New York Times best-selling novel of the same name, was released earlier this year. The movie, similarly to the book, caused controversy, as God was portrayed as a black woman. The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus written by author Lee Strobel, who spoke at the 2014 North American Christian Convention, was made into a movie. Moviegoers watched Strobel’s conversion from atheism to Christianity in The Case for Christ, released in April.
If you missed those two movies, more faith-based films will be released this year. The Second Coming of Christ is described as being “the journey of an atheist woman scientist who, at the end of times, discovers that true faith can bring miracles.” In August All Saints will be released. The movie, which stars Emmy Award-winning actor John Corbett, is “based on the inspiring true story of salesman-turned-pastor Michael Spurlock, the tiny church he was ordered to shut down, and a group of refugees from Southeast Asia.”
The biopic Mary Magdalene is scheduled for a November limited release. Joaquin Phoenix of Walk the Line will star as Jesus Christ, according to its imdb.com
page. Children can enjoy The Star, which will also be released in November, about how “a small but brave donkey and his animal friends become the unsung heroes of the first Christmas.” Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead is the voice of Bo the donkey.
As we plan our entertainment choices, let’s consider supporting these and other faith-based movies so that they will continue to be made.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service. Read more on her website (afterthealtarcall.com).