Is Hollywood Anti-Christian?

DraculaUntold

I get asked (usually from Christian media) if I believe Hollywood is anti-Christian. I understand the question, because it’s pretty easy to see that Judeo-Christian values aren’t exactly the hot button these days in the movie and television industries. And yet, to make a blanket statement that Hollywood is the enemy is a big mistake. Recently, I discussed the issue with a major Christian media site, and here’s what I told them. I’d love to hear your comments about my answers:

What’s your response when you hear Christians complain that Hollywood is anti-Christian?
It certainly hasn’t been true in my experience. Obviously there are people in Hollywood who don’t like religion, just like there are attorneys, school teachers, plumbers, and store clerks across the country who don’t like religion. But in my experience the vast majority of producers, actors, filmmakers, and studio executives in Hollywood are very open. In most cases (again, like the general culture) these men and women weren’t raised in a Christian home, so they’re largely ignorant of any knowledge about the Christian faith. But that doesn’t make them “anti-faith.” In fact, I’ve had some remarkable conversations with industry leaders about Christianity, and you’d be amazed at the number of highly placed entertainment and media professionals who are believers.

But what about specific examples of Hollywood being anti-faith?
I think in most cases, the idea that Hollywood is “anti-faith” is a gimmick used by some Christian organizations to raise money. It’s a well used technique in fundraising to create an enemy so your followers will respond. I also believe that some Christians can be too quick to use terms like “mockery” when movies don’t portray Bible stories accurately. Most filmmakers don’t believe the Bible, but that doesn’t mean they don’t see the value in it’s great stories. However, since they’re not believers, they don’t feel the loyalty to the story that we do, so as creative artists, they don’t see a problem deviating from the storyline. But it’s not about “mockery” or being “anti-faith.”

Until 2013, Hollywood rarely touched faith. TV still keeps an arm’s distance from religious topics. Why is this, especially in light of the success of shows like “7th Heaven?”
To be honest, that program was popular an entire generation ago, so it’s not really relevant to the conversation. Tastes change, culture changes, trends change, people change – so you can’t really compare what was popular 20+ years ago with what’s popular today. Keep in mind that Hollywood is a business – not a religious organization, so their goal (like any other business) is to make a profit for their investors and shareholders. Creative people create based on what they know, and frankly, as I mentioned before, most Hollywood professionals simply didn’t grow up in Christian families, so to produce faith-based programming simply isn’t on their radar. One important inroad I’ve made is to point out to studios that Hollywood bends over backwards to reach special interest groups of all kinds – like feminists, environmentalists, the gay community, the military, gamers, etc – but by the numbers, Christians are the largest “special interest” group there is. And yet many in Hollywood don’t understand what makes us tick. There’s a handful of us in town trying to turn that around, and after years working in the industry, I can say that for the vast majority of cases, it’s simply a world they’ve never grown up in or encountered.

Is there anything Christians do to improve the lack of faith-related programming in Hollywood (rather than simply complain)?

1. It’s my position that boycotts, petition drives, etc are very damaging to our cause. If that worked, then why don’t missionaries do it? Why don’t missionaries surround a Third World village, hold up signs, call them names, and threaten to never do business with them? Boy, THAT would win them to Christ. Not!
What do missionaries do? They work from the inside, building relationships, earning trust, and becoming one of them. Once they’ve earned the right to speak, that’s when change happens.

2. Let’s preview movies and tell Christians (especially families with kids) what’s in them.  I’m all for reviews and recommendations that let people know what’s there so they can decide for themselves. Everyone has the right not to see a movie, but when it comes to major, orchestrated criticism, let’s actually see the movie before we launch a national campaign. I’m a firm believer that to criticize a movie, book, TV program or other endeavor in the media without actually seeing it is intellectually dishonest. When Christian leaders mount massive campaigns against movies they haven’t even seen it really hurts our credibility outside the Christian bubble.

3. I’d like to see the Christian community criticize less and begin raising up our own filmmakers, writers, and producers to go into the industry.  Let’s focus less on making explicitly “Christian” films and more on getting Christian thinking into mainstream movies. Even with the success of a few movies like “God’s Not Dead,” they’re largely seen by the choir. That’s not influencing the culture. I’m talking about the same strategy the gay community used and it was brilliant. They helped find talented gay filmmakers, developed relationships with studios and TV networks, mentored them, and helped fund their projects. And just look at the results. We’re actually in the early stages of that strategy with an organization we’ve launched called “The Influence Lab.”

4. Finally (and here’s a novel idea) let’s pray for Hollywood.  If we really believe that God answers prayer, what if we started encouraging Christians to pray for the most influential industry on the planet? What if we started praying for the thousands of dedicated believers working inside the industry everyday? I think that would have far greater results than boycotts, petition drives, and criticism. For help starting, check out The Hollywood Prayer Network.

What trends, if any, when it comes to film and tv content are troubling to you (sex, violence, etc.)?
A very big issue for me is how technology has made pornography so readily available to children. It’s not just movies or TV, it’s video games, the Internet, and now mobile devices. I’m stunned at how few parents monitor their children’s computer use or use anti-porn filters on computers. I also encourage parents to never allow young people to have computers in their bedroom. When our daughters were young, we kept all the computers out in the open where everyone could see what they were doing. The question is – what will a culture look like when boys have been raised with pornography so readily available? It will dramatically change their views and expectations of women, and we’re already seeing that evidence.

What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned about faith in Hollywood?
Never be afraid to be a Christian in Hollywood. Trust me – there are folks out here who hug trees and worship rocks, so being a Christian isn’t as weird as some think. And if you want to make an impact, don’t lead with your faith. Lead with your talent – your acting, writing, directing, or producing abilities. Once they notice and respect your talent, they’re much more willing to listen to anything else you have to say.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • This is something very close to my heart – particularly your point #3.

    If I’m honest, I know that I’m not the best producer or director out there, and I may never be. So, when I made my first feature film, my main motivation behind it was to show other Christians how to make a film that was not a ‘Christian film’, but rather a good story, told well, with a Christian influence. In my film there are no, or little mentions of God, church, and no mention of Jesus. However, there is a strong overarching Christian message flowing through, of surrendering to God and salvation through grace. While this film did ended up being picked up by a Christian film distributor, we only went with them because they said they could get it into Wal-Mart (which did happen). We knew that this film was made with the story put first, and what ‘message’ there was, was woven into the fabric of the story. Ultimately it was a Christian influenced film, targeting a non-churched audience, for the general movie viewing public. This is VERY different from making a ‘Christian’ film for a Christian, pew-sitting niche audience.

    I love the idea of Christians within Hollywood raising up a generation of Christian film professionals, in order to create Christian influenced films from the inside. This is what I attempted to do with my film, but there are other examples of Hollywood films and television which in no way would be classified or labeled as ‘Christian’, but do contain strong Christian messages or misc-en-scene.

    Examples of a few modern ones are:

    Riddick

    Here Comes The Boom

    Rocky Balboa

    Man Of Steel

    The Walking Dead (TV series)

    Fargo season 2 (TV series)

    I do have a vision for my own place within Hollywood, and I’m on the path, taking steps to prepare myself for that position, including completing an MBA, so that I’m ready for the day when God may open that door. I hope others are doing the same.

    • That’s a great attitude Josh, and it sometimes is a long journey – especially if you’re not living here knocking on doors regularly. But today, the most important thing is having created good work, and you’re on that track…

  • L Kiser

    Much content in television today teaches humor through putting others downs when we should be uplifting each other. The other trend that is disturbing is the dark side’s pipe dream of evil being powerful and humans always being shown as weak. Evil has this fantasy of aliens and demons ripping us to shreds. One even showed demons invading heaven and ripping it apart. Lol they wish! It gives the masses a false sense of helplessness when actually human beings have been given the authority and power. On word of their prayer can change everything, mountains move, lives blessed, etc…

  • Phil, this is excellent, as usual. I would add another point under your 2nd item: Pull a Paul and use their art to share God’s story. That is exactly what I do over at http://www.reelparables.com , I use Hollywood movies to share God’s story.
    Yes, we have gotten some good “Christian movies” lately, but Hollywood just can’t stop sharing God’s story. After all, if it’s true, it is true because God said it was true. So when Hollywood retells the Prodigal Son story (Saving Private Ryan, The Martian, Finding Nemo, etc.) it is an easy, and often entertaining, way to share God’s story. These stories are powerful because at their core, they are true because they are God’s story!

    • Great point. The parables aren’t “religious” stories, but they reveal great religious truth. A movie or TV program doesn’t have to be located in a church, have Christian characters, or have an altar call at the end to share a powerful Christian message.

  • Thanks, Phil, for bringing a very balanced view of things in Hollywood. I have repeatedly been appalled at how foolish Christians have made themselves look in the eyes of outsiders by the way they respond (often ignorantly) to things produced by the motion picture industry. And I agree with you fully when you say that maybe we should provide a better alternative to what people are viewing instead of standing around voicing our criticism. Thanks again for bringing a fully Christ-like perspective on a very important subject.

  • Oh the irony. I am friends with John Brunson, who’s great grandmother Daiada Wilcox-Beveridge founded Hollywood in the 1880’s. She and her wealthy older husband moved here from Kansas and grieving the loss of their first child, purchased a huge tract in the Cahuenga Pass then called the “La Brea Rancho.” They often went for buggy rides to the serene area for peace and healing. No one is 100% sure but the story goes that she had met a woman on a train back in Ohio who had a country estate called “Hollywood” -she loved the name and used it for their planned Christian community. They were hard core prohibitionists who banned pool halls, bars and gave free lots to churches. Her dream was to create a “Christian Utopia.” Later, her second husband, Harvey, was a Donald Trump like character who navigated the transition into the 20th century, of Hollywood being the home of Movie Studios. Everything changed and the “Chrsitian Utopia” went out the window; or did it? The HAYS CODE made sure that every movie ever made showed the bad guy losing, showed that crime never paid and that ethic still basically exists today. Maybe the movies have served as the church for the un-churched, a bastion of morality that we often overlook. If you want to pray, please pray that this story (the Christan foundations of Hollywood) gets out. I am trying to develop a project around it but it’s been tough sailing.

    • I can confirm that it’s a true story. In fact, in the early part of the 20th century, the Church produced more films that Hollywood. I’ve actually seen historic churches that still have the old projection booth built in above the sanctuary.

  • Austin Beeman

    I think one of the biggest problems is the belief that Christian films need to be “family friendly.’

    Most of the Bible, if accurately portrayed on film, would alienate the vast majority of “Christian audiences.”

    So what we get is cinematically powerless movies.

    Where is the mainstream Christian version of something like The Wire?

  • Roland Austinat

    “Hollywood” is a word as amorphous as “Religion”. It’s easy to “hate” Hollywood or Religion. But as soon as things become personal, it’s a whole different story. Hollywood is made up of people. Christianity – note that I don’t say church – is made up of people. People telling other people their story is very powerful – and people like stories. Why else would they be binge-watching TV shows to this day? ;)

    Like you said, and that’s true on a global scale: most people don’t even know the stories of the Bible anymore. Why would I berate them for not making a movie or TV show about it? Movies that speak to the choir don’t really help anyone. I’d rather have Christian authors write their values into scripts, Christian producers treating their production team fairly … you get the picture.

    • Exactly. Well said Roland. If we looked at the “people” we’d be much less likely to criticize…

  • Roxy

    I love this. I’m an actress in LA and the main issue I’m having is passing up auditions due to nudity. So that’s hard. But I love your articles and find them encouraging, so thank you.

    • That’s a tough challenge for sure. Thanks for hanging in there…

  • R2D3

    Phil writes: “I think in most cases, the idea that Hollywood is ‘anti-faith’ is a gimmick used by some Christian organizations to raise money. It’s a well used technique in fundraising to create an enemy so your followers will respond. I also believe that some Christians can be too quick to use terms like “mockery” when movies don’t portray Bible stories accurately.”

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  • R2D3

    Take the new Will Smith film, Concussion, for example. The script skillfully infused the film with Dr. Bennet Omalu’s and his wife’s Christian values, yet the film was not preachy, like a lot of “Christian films” are.

    I found it remarkable how Smith “disappeared” into the role of Omalu.

    • I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I will. And just watching the trailer I can see how Will totally becomes that character. Great point…

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  • FinishingStrongMan

    Phil,

    Are you familiar with Actors Models and Talent for Christ (AMTC)? IMHO they seem to be effectively promoting a similar culture change through presenting talented believers into the entertainment industry. Please list any established institutions/educators in the world teaching in such a way to raise up believers to be filmmakers, writers and producers to go into the industry? My high school age daughter has a passion for the industry.

  • Simon Dillon

    Saying Hollywood is anti-Christian is ridiculous. It isn’t anti-Christian, just pro-money.

  • I’m really thankful for this post. Thanks for encouraging others to bring their A-game and lead with talent. The Hollywood Prayer Network is great and I’m happy to see them promoted.

  • leilani haywood

    I’ve always wondered about Christian reviewers that review films for family-friendliness. They review some films that obviously I wouldn’t bring my family to which is like totally ‘duh’ and makes us look stupid when they give it 1 star. And I hate Christian bashing campaigns of movies that they haven’t seen. Ugh!

  • Tandi Byrne

    This article “Is Hollywood Anti Christian?” turns the cultural binoculars back around on Christian culture. It seems, when it comes to Hollywood, we may be good at detecting the proverbial log in another’s eye, when, in fact, it’s blinding us. The headline for this article could read also read “Is Christendom Anti Hollywood?”

    Phil’s article alludes to the inherent problem of the ‘medicine’ Christendom is prescribing to cure Hollywood’s ills, which is actually the cure we crave. It’s formulated to look like us, talk like us, affirm us and understand us. It is Us. And we look good! To Us!

    An example of Christian Us-ness can be found in what I call “a new highbred church” set within movies that Phil mentions in this article (i.e. God Is Dead). These faith-based movies are gaining popularity with Christian audiences and enjoying a degree of success at the box office. In light of these strides, Phil asks: Are we actually gaining any cultural ground?

    I’m actually not opposed (nor do I think Phil is) to this emerging faith-based genre with its young, gangly legs that is building box-office-muscle with every new release. I think these films are powerful tools, through which, Christians experience the Gospel in a new, creative way. After all, our greatest storyteller was Jesus who taught through powerful parables.

    But, as Phil points out, Christians are missing the point and an incredible opportunity if we think we are affecting real change in Hollywood when we stop short with our made-for-Christians movies.

    Consider Phil’s observation of Third World village missionaries and how they are reaching diverse people groups around the world. They are Christendom’s ground troops often going into hostile territory to serve cultures that may never have a chance to hear the Gospel—if not, for these faithful soldiers.

    The first step these missionaries take is educating themselves about the people they are targeting. Then, they set out to a build relationship with a people by speaking in their native tongue and using their customs. Diligently and patiently they earn the right to speak into people lives.

    Meanwhile, back in Hollywood any challenge to our Us-ness is often perceived as a personal assault upon Christianity with an evil intent. I think we’ve got it backwards as we look the wrong way through the binoculars. Is Hollywood anti-Christian or are we anti-Hollywood?

    Phil is casting a new and clearer vision on Hollywood by first redirecting the looking glass at how (and why) Christendom ministers to Hollywood. Next he adjusts our focus by educating us about the ‘native people’ in this industry. He adds: While Hollywood makers and shakers may not look like us or make products that resemble us, they are not the enemy. Our battle isn’t so much against the moviemakers in the industry; but to some extent, against our own shortsightedness.

    It brings to mind one my favorite examples of evangelism by the Apostle Paul in Acts 17. On his visit to Athens, Paul finds himself facing stiff opposition to the Gospel. At the time this beautiful city was considered the world’s great cradle bed of philosophy, architecture, and art–and even religion. It shaped the thinking and beliefs of the Middle East and formed its identity. It some respects, you could say, Athens’s was the ancient world’s version of Hollywood. Upon setting foot in the city, Paul was greatly troubled to find it full of idols. His response to this culture that worshiped 30+ gods is brilliant:

    Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in everyway you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)

    Paul goes on to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ! This section of scripture not only offers a powerful revelation of the need to present the Gospel to every culture and age of the world (including Hollywood), but how. Paul gives a very spiritual answer in secular terms that gives respect and honor to the Athenians. He then goes on to proclaim the Gospel with no compromise.

    In the spirit and wisdom of this great Apostle, I think Phil is challenging Christians in a fresh way to change Hollywood. Forgo the criticism, attacks and resistance (boycotts, letters writing campaigns, protests, etc.). They don’t work. Rather, we can bring something new to the table and join the dialog.

    In closing, Phil gives two great directives. Firstly, he advises: “The Christian community to focus less on making explicitly Christian films and more on getting Christian thinking into mainstream.” Secondly, he goes on to call the Christian community to “raise up our own filmmakers, writers and producers to go into the industry.”

    My hope is that someday there will be a new headline that reads: “Christians Gaining Ground In Media as Pro Hollywood Supporters.”

    • Very insightful Tandi. Thanks for sharing those thoughts…

  • L. W. Adkins

    We conform to the pattern of this world again and again. We chase fulfillment in things like success and relationships. We say things like, “I’ll be so happy after, when, etc.” So instead of conforming, we need to transform. The kingdom of the Heavens is available to us here and now. In the present tense. God rarely follows our script. The Kingdom is at work, when our plans fall apart and our redeemer is by our side. We need to choose to be transformed and stop conforming to this world and being offended.