Engaging Culture

Is Hollywood Out of Touch with Middle America?

Recently, the Christian Post interviewed me about Hollywood. It was a good article, but as most publications do, they only used a few short quotes. I thought I’d post the entire interview in case you might be interested in my comments.  Let me know what you think:

Christian Post: Do you think Hollywood is out of touch with middle America?

Phil: Obviously Hollywood doesn’t reflect a significant segment of what we might call “Middle America.” Most studio executives I’ve met don’t hold much in the way of religious values, and most are politically liberal. But then again, you could say the same thing generally about attorneys, doctors, and most university professors I’ve come in contact with. Perhaps the bigger issue is “Why do we expect non-believers to act like believers?” Why do we get so stressed out when Hollywood doesn’t reflect our values, or create movies we like? I think far too often we Christians simply get distracted from what we’re really called to do in the world. We spend so much time freaking out over not being able to say a prayer at the start of a high school football game, or upset at Hollywood, the gay community, or others that we forget that our job is to reach the world, not complain about the world.

Christian Post: Considering the stats for “R” movies vs. “G,” why do you think more and more of these movies are being produced?  What is the appeal?

PC: The widely distributed idea that G or PG movies do better than R rated movies is somewhat inaccurate. When you take extremely high budget animated blockbusters like “Cars” or “Toy Story” out of the mix, then the story changes significantly. We’d all like to believe that people are looking for G rated entertainment, but the truth is, that’s not necessarily the case. Besides, while protecting children is critical, I’m not sure Christians are really called to produce only G rated movies and TV programming. After all, if we filmed the Bible, much of it would be R-rated, and occasionally worse. The Bible doesn’t gloss over real life and God apparently wasn’t afraid to tell real, authentic stories. I think the culture would respect our message much more if we stopped producing just cheesy, G-rated films and started telling gritty stories about real life.

Christian Post: Do you think Americans would rather see Christian movies? Or would they rather watch feel-good/family type movies? Is there a difference?

PC: First, for better or worse, research from The Barna Group indicates that Christians watch pretty much the exact type of movies and TV programs than non-Christians watch. Second, while I certainly think there’s a place for movies with a Christian theme, the truth is, that’s not why I go to the movies. I go to see powerful, compelling stories about all kinds of subjects. If it has Christian implications like “Blindside,” or “The Chronicles of Narnia,” great. But I’m just as thrilled to see a great war movie, historical epic, or sci-fi thriller.

Christian Post: What could Hollywood do to become more “in touch” with Middle America?

CP: The question is backwards. I would ask, what does “Middle America” need to do to get Hollywood’s attention? The answer to that question is to buy tickets. We sometimes forget that Hollywood is a business. As a result, they pay very little attention to boycotts and critics, but pay a lot of attention to box office receipts. Christians could change Hollywood tomorrow if they would simply start showing up at films they care about. That’s it. There are millions of evangelical Christians in America, and if we could mobilize that power to show up at great movies that reflect our values, trust me – Hollywood would notice and respond.



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  1. Excellent perspective from Phil Cooke.  As usual, Phil has a great handle on the topic because he is a dual-insider.  As a believer originally from the South he understands the Middle America audience.  But, as a Hollywood insider, he also knows what drives the businessmen who produce the  movies we all watch. 

  2. I really liked your quote “Perhaps the bigger issue is ‘Why do we expect non-believers to act like believers?'”  Thank you for bringing this perspective. I so rarely hear it.  The 20th century church often behaved as though Scripture came stored in a giant can of Lysol and our job was to go around and sterilize everything.  Big surprise – our feeble attempts to change the hearts of men are no more effective than a can of Lysol.  Only the Holy Spirit can accomplish this.  The best we can do is go and ask Christ question – “Who do you say that I am?”


  3. Good comments already and Phil does have a great handle on all of this. I will address one specific part of this and that’s the part that deals with the focus of the title – yes, Hollywood is, to a degree, out of touch with the fly-over states.

    The old adage in story creation is to write what you know. Most of the creatives in charge of the storytelling in Hollywood are not coming from a Christological viewpoint and they are writing from what they know or for what they wish the world would become.

    One point that is often not brought up and discussed is that we don’t have enough people with “our” perspective creating the content and making decisions about the stories that get financed and distributed.

    Here’s a crazy thought: instead of church’s blasting Hollywood, they should financially support a film/TV “missionary” to the industry. If every church in America financially suppported one Christian to go into the industry at any position: writer, PA, location manager, studio exec, development exec, etc., the industry would change just out of sheer numbers.

    Them there’s my thoughts on it. 

  4. I also get fed up of certain groups saying PG movies do so much better than R. It’s simply not true, especially given the marketing and big budgets of, say, Pixar films. It’s all about return on investment.

    As an example, R-rated horror movies continue to get made because in terms of return on investment they make far more. Hollywood execs are not stupid. They know the audience for horror is smaller than for Pixar movies, so they make these films for less money.

    On another note, I personally think the horror genre has huge potential for Christians to use, if they would just get over their squeamishness.

    1. Simon- just curious … what is the potential that Christians are missing in the horror genre? If I’m missing reaching unbelievers because I personally dismiss horror flicks, then according to your statement, I need to violate my conscience and disturb my mind in order to become desensitized to senseless violent acts for the sake of evangelism. I have not read anywhere in the Bible where we are instructed to violate our conscience by exposing ourselves to acts of hate crimes (guts and all) and use it as a tool of evangelism. I believe there are more effective ways of telling a story that have greater potential to influence others for the sake of evangelism. Getting over squeamishness gets what results?

      1. Hi Mary Jo,

        Check out this article that I wrote on my film review blog – it explains my horror movie position much more clearly.

        Obviously, temperament has a huge part to play in 1) what kind of stories we like personally and 2) what kind of stories we would therefore like to tell. Not everyone should tell horror stories, but personally I have no theological problem whatsoever with adhering to the conventions of a genre such as horror to tell a story which has a good message (but critically, it mustn’t feel like a preach, of course).

        As an aside, I’d be most curious to see what a director like Paul Verhoeven would make of Judges 19 – a story that begins with gang rape and dismemberment, and builds from there! As Phil points out, this stuff is in the Bible and it is there for a reason. Clearly God is a lot less squeamish than we sometimes are.


  5. Most of the movies coming out of Hollywood these days are decidedly gnostic and anti-Christian. So to see more believers working that mission field is a definite plus.

    On a side note: I’m afraid evangelicals will never be able to tip the scales in Jesus’ favor, because too much of the leadership is in bed with the enemy, and too much of the follwership is out of touch with the world outside of the church. 

    If change is to come,  it’ll to come the way it always has: from the grassroots level. The Holy Spirit working within average folks, virulently infecting society until it changes into God’s ideal.

    Maybe we could use a few more Tyler Perrys going the anti-Hollywood route, still making commercially viable movies that have strong redemptive Christian themes.

    1. Tyler Perry’s movies are also done on the cheap. He left Hollywood so not to pay Union scale. The LEFT BEHIND movies were done in Canada for economic reasons (K.C. will say diferent)

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