Friday, June 19, 2015

Why Christians Should Care about Foreign-Language Movies

The history of cinema is filled with great movies from around the world.  This includes movies with a Christian message, too.  There has been a lot of criticism of Christian movies lately in America because these authors are usually referring to movies from America's so-called Christian film industry.  American Christian audiences should be giving more love to foreign language movies for reasons that go above and beyond the secular case for watching foreign movies.  Movies provide a great way to empathize with and create unity with our Christian brothers and sisters around the world.  Judging people for not supporting the American Christian film industry while not supporting the foreign Christian movies others like is hypocritical.  Some of the best Christian movies are from other countries.  While many have a preference against subtitled movies, Christianity is about dying to self and setting aside preferences.  Lastly, I think support of Christian movies can be a two-way street so I have seen movies from the American Christian film industry.

In regards to the empathetic power of movies, Roger Ebert has said:
"We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We're kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us."
While this quote can potentially be true of any movie, it is especially valuable in regards to those outside of our cultural milieu.  Movies are an opportunity to learn about other cultures, as well as foster unity within humanity.  These are our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, created in the image and likeness of God.  Movies and storytelling thrust us into these people's shoes in a way that the World Fact Book can not.

Some Americans hold the Christian film industry, its movies and its evangelical potential in very high regard.  This sometimes leads to claims that the rest of us Christians have a moral obligation to support the movies that these people like, because these movies are Christian, of course.  "You are for evangelization, aren't you?"  Otherwise, we would only have secular movies.  This is a false choice based on a limited knowledge of a surprisingly broad movie market.  It is hypocritical to wag your finger at people for not supporting Christian movies when you only mean the select ones that you like and are already supporting and not the ones they like and you ignore.  It only takes five minutes on google to research alternative movie options.

Some of the best Christian movies have been made in other countries.  This fact was pretty much statistically inevitable.  These are devout, orthodox, proudly Christian movies.  These are movies with artistic merit and theological heft.  Not only would viewing these movies be very edifying for many Christians, these great movies are also an evangelization tool for outsiders as they are great works of art that even non-Christians want to see, much like a beautiful cathedral.  One might believe that foreign language movies don't do much for American audiences, but if we have an opportunity to see them here, then they must have a U.S. release for a reason.  As a second point, these movies are certainly reaching their home audiences, all people just as in need of the Gospel as English-speakers.  A distaste for subtitles strikes me as a shallow reason to avoid these opportunities.

What if subtitled movies are just not someone's preference?  Beyond what I mentioned above, Christianity is not about endlessly indulging our preferences.  That is consumerism.  Christianity is about dying to self and setting aside our preferences.  While I'm certainly not insinuating that watching foreign-language movies is a universal moral imperative, it could be a thing for some Christians to think about.  My sister-in-law gave up English-language movies for Lent one year.

Is the support of Christian movies a two-way street and should us "highbrows" be doing more to support the American Christian film industry?  Maybe.  I myself have seen a few movies from the Christian film industry.  While I didn't like most of them for a myriad of reasons, I still intend to watch more with time.  I have some respect for the enthusiasm of that audience and I like the potential that the Christian film industry represents.  We shouldn't take it for granted that movies must be made through Hollywood.  Lastly, I don't like to poo-poo things I haven't actually seen.

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