Saturday, August 22, 2015

Is a Christian Film Industry Actually Necessary?

Questions have been going back and forth among Christians over America's Christian film industry and its necessity and validity?  As a movie lover, I want more good movies to be made and I don't particularly care what milieu or business model they come out of.  Whatever works.  Good is good.  As a Christian, I want more good Christian movies as defined by content, movies that put forth our broad values and even core evangelical message.  With these ends in mind, a Christian film industry is not inherently necessary.

What are the pros and cons of the mainstream film industry with these goals in mind?  For starters, the mainstream film industry may not be as hostile to traditional values as we think.  Sure, we can all think of an R-rated movie that has a wretched message or content or whatever, but we could probably also come up with a fair-sized list of mainstream movies that are altogether positive and affirming of good values.  The mainstream film industry, namely "Hollywood", if it could be tapped, currently reaches well more people than any B-movie Christian counterpart.  They also attract the people who are the most talented in the medium.  Hollywood has a strong history with narrative storytelling and Christianity is very cinematic, thus providing fantastic content for them.  As the last positive, Hollywood currently represents the mainstream culture that Christians should desire to retake and once again transform.  Have we lost so much hope that we are content to live in a cultural ghetto?  Are we content to be marginalized?  Would it not be ideal that we one day take back mainstream culture?  Fulton Sheen was once on mainstream primetime television.  Or do they believe the Christian film industry may actually surpass Hollywood one day?  The one downside to mainstream media is they are not good for all types of content.  While narrative storytelling is their strong suit, there is still a place among Christian media for other forms, especially directly pedagogical work and less entertainment-oriented forms of spirituality.  There is, however, not a valid place for poor storytelling.

What of the Christian film industry?  Starting with the negatives, they disproportionately put out mediocre content.  At some point, some production companies may have a ceiling on their ability to improve, as preachiness, which goes hand-in-hand with poorly-crafted storytelling, is an inherent feature of what they make and they may actually alienate much of their audience by making a traditional "good" movie, one that has believable characters and story and leaves the message in the subtext.  They reduce Christianity to another category.  Christianity is not just another category.  It is a universal truth and calling.  In this capacity, the Christian film industry so often fails at its supposed goal of evangelizing outsiders.  I'm not sure if the makers of these movies really believe they are evangelizing large swaths of non-Christians or if that is just what some of their audience believes.  I think some people have an attachment to the Christian film industry because they have seen individual movies that they liked and have conflated supporting Christian movies in general with supporting that one movie they saw and liked.  The only piece of Christian media that all Christians have an absolute moral obligation to promote is the Bible.  While there are certainly other good Christian media, they do not occupy the same pedestal and we are allowed to to dislike them and and even criticize them for reasons that don't involve heterodoxy.  On the other hand, the Christian film industry occasionally puts out good movies which probably deserve support from some people.  Also, as I noted above, some forms of very valid and necessary Christian content may not fit in a mainstream entertainment paradigm, although this subset may be smaller than some people think.

Which approach should Christians be using: infiltrating Hollywood or creating our own business model?  Why not both?  Whatever approach gets good content created and distributed to the most people.  In solving this problem, there may yet be a third way, a fourth way, a fifth way, and so on.  Business models are changing all the time.

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