“Mirror, Mirror on the Wall”: The United States, U.S. Christianity, and Cinema

Beginning with the era of the Civil Rights Revolution in the 1950s and 1960s, the Modern Republican Party founded itself in part in opposition to this increase in the nation’s diversity and civil rights, and also in part as an Extremist/Fundamentalist Party committed to an odd version of White U.S. Christianity.

This process has continued to happen with new intensity in the past half-decade during which time the nation has seen more demographic diversity, more minority groups have their human and civil rights codified, and the successes of the nation’s first Black president. Additionally, there is especially sharp contemporary controversial surrounding evolution.

Film mirrors the society in which it is made—not necessarily all of it but important and vocal voices. People watch movies to have their beliefs reinforced, to see, hear, and feel their hopes and fears manifested in “larger than life” ways. One indication of this is the unusual number of films currently being screened that directly speak to the current “crisis” in US Christianity. This “crisis” from the Church’s point-of-view includes decreasing church attendance because most people have to work on Sundays and a growing number of people do not subscribe to the ideologies of a religion; the growing frustration with the inability of the Church to allow and encourage critical thinking (a recent Republican Party platform specifically lists critical thinking as an evil); and the resistance of the Church (parts of it anyway) to embrace equality for all people.

The theater near where I live is showing three such films at this time. The historical dramas, not surprisingly, feature White cast members when such is completely ahistorical for the times portrayed. Additionally, based on the trailer, the film God’s Not Dead paints the Academy and professors in a sharply negative light. Of course, like within and without colleges and universities, there are people of all religious belief systems or no religious belief system, but this film focuses on a professor who is not simply an atheist but a militant, mean, and cruel person – this representation will only serve to dehumanize and demonize non-Christians regardless of other factors. Colleges have all sorts of systems to protect students should something like this actually happen. God’s Not Dead, again based on the trailer, is also another narrative focusing on White people. Regarding these films, we must also remember, that film serves to use one or two characters in specific situations to represent all such characters/people and situations. The film Noah, likewise, is no accident – speaking directly to the current “debates” around evolution that wish to ignore evidence.

Check out the trailers below (Email subscribers will need to visit the webpage, I think, to see the trailers.)

Son of God

Noah

God’s Not Dead

In the next few weeks, another film is coming out.

Heaven Is For Real

Additionally, the always-controversial Kirk Cameron has recently had three such films that focus on Biblical stories and mores.

Responses to these different films will be interesting for sure. What influence (if any) will these films have on viewers?

Representations matter. Rhetoric matters.

world-religions

8 responses

  1. “Son of God” is an extension of the History Channel miniseries on The Bible that aired last year. One key change is that they eliminated Satan from the story, probably because of too many complaints that the actor strongly resembled President Obama. I saw part of the Bible miniseries (as someone who studies religious history, I thought it was worth viewing). To put it politely, it was a perfect representation of how the History Channel no longer focuses on actual history–only in this case, “The Bible” had very little resemblance to the actual Bible. I have only heard bad things about “Noah,” and none of the other religious-oriented films appeal to me.

    However, my mother will still watch “King of Kings” on Good Friday (it’s tradition), and I will still hear her shout out “bring me the head of John the Baptist” when it reaches that part of the movie. At the same time, my church-going grandmother refused to watch “The Ten Commandments,” saying that the story was too farfetched…

    And yes, you should blame those anti-civil rights Republicans…except they were Southern Democrats in the 1950s and 1960s. LBJ was an aberration as a southerner and a Democrat who supported civil rights. It was a Republican president (Eisenhower) who appointed the Republican Chief Justice (Earl Warren) who ruled in the Brown v. Board of Education case, and Eisenhower sent the troops to Little Rock to enforce the decision. George Wallace, the Alabama governor who personally tried to block African Americans from enrolling at the University of Alabama, was a lifelong Democrat. The Republican Party didn’t really shift to anti-civil rights until the late 1970s, if even that early (and in many ways still isn’t anti-civil rights; the party instead prefers no special treatment because of race, gender, etc.). The difference is that the Democratic Party did a better job courting the African American vote after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (both had bipartisan support, but hardly any support from Southern Democrats), in some cases seeing African American precincts voting 100% in favor of the Democratic candidate (with 100% voter turnout)..

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    • @Karen

      Thanks for your comments. :)

      Politics were for sure “weird” during the era of the Liberal Consensus.

      The book “Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right” discuss a pretty good job explaining the tie between the Right and Christianity dating to the 1950s. I haven’t read it completely yet, but “The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism: A Short History” I’ve heard also does this too.

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  2. Can I just say “Ug,” and be done with it all?

    I saw the “GIND” trailer and thought that the actor/character Jesus sure was snarky whenever he wanted to prove himself right. Attitude seemed to be “Told you so.” That kind of attitude tends to make people want to do violent things. Just saying.

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  3. In stark contrast to the rest, the two writers of Noah are Jews, one of them also being a neurobiology Ph.D. While it fits with the biblical epics trend in film recently, Noah is in a different league altogether than the smaller movies Christian groups are funding. It’s a much bigger film, in many senses, than the rest of the Christian schlock coming out this season.

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    • BUDGET.

      By that I mean this is meant as a larger tentpole picture made by a respected film auteur (Aronofsky). The other films are either independent productions (God’s Not Dead), a repackage of a History mini-series (Son of God), or a smaller move in general (Heaven is for Real cost $12 million to make, less than 10% than what Noah cost.)

      The other films are also being made for the express purpose of reassurance. God’s Not Dead, Son of God, and so forth were not made to convert the skeptical, but rather tell people what audiences already know in a hamfisted and didactic manner. Aronofsky comes to the text and concepts from a different manner. His interview with The Atlantic is a decent example of how he wants to explore these concepts and themes: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/print/2014/03/the-terror-of-em-noah-em-how-darren-aronofsky-interprets-the-bible/359587/

      Also, I already wrote this, so I might as well share here: As someone who recently graduated for a Christian college in GRusalem, I am well acquainted with Christian culture’s desire for the filmic equivalent of comfort food. Though to clarify, my college, Calvin College, specifically has programs for deeper engagement with pop culture. The film The Genesis Code was partially filmed on my campus. It’s a baaad movie, and the college had their name removed from the film. Incidentally, The Genesis Code -> another bad Christian film. It too has a professor type character than dismisses faith. These kind of films have a bad habit of doing that.

      ….I have a lot of experience and a lot to say about Christian culture.

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