Religion in Hollywood

hollywoodCan Christianity find a place in Hollywood? Christians in the movie business face a high level of pressure to hide their faith, despite the recent resurgence of Hollywood interest in spirituality. Sarah Price Brown of Religion News Service found an inside-Hollywood story that reminded me of some of the work going on in journalism.

Since the only free link I could find to the story was a truncated version on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram‘s website, I will summarize and provide the money quotes from the article that appeared as a three-quarter-page blowout in The Washington Post Saturday religion section, with three photos and a jump.

LOS ANGELES — It’s hip to be spiritual in Hollywood these days, as long as you’re not religious. The way the fashionable set sees it, Scientology and cabala are in, Christianity is out.

But a new program to train Christians to be film and television executives is trying to reverse the trend.

“We’re not here to fix Hollywood as much as we’re here to fix the church,” said Barbara Nicolosi, executive director of Act One, which runs a three-month program that places Christians in entertainment internships and hosts lectures by industry professionals.

Hollywood has turned the movie industry away from its roots, Brown writes, when movies were first played in churches a century ago. Today “immorality, sex and violence” dominate and people of faith have turned their backs on the industry.

Now there is a boot camp for Christians who want to work in Hollywood.

Realizing that it would not be enough for Christians to write screenplays if no one made them into movies, Nicolosi launched the executive program to train would-be Hollywood decision-makers.

Out of about 60 applicants, Act One chose 15 students to participate in its first executive seminar in Los Angeles. By day, participants go to work at internships at movie studios, production companies and talent agencies. By night, students learn about story development, finance and budgeting, leadership and ethics from visiting speakers who work in the entertainment industry.

Brown interviewed people in the industry who range from a consultant on the Da Vinci Code film to a former Billy Graham movie producer turned horror moviemaker.

According to those interviewed by Brown, it’s not Hollywood that needs to change itself, but the church that needs to wake up and change Hollywood. Act One raised about $600,000 from a group of foundations, and it hopes to start a program that will teach pastors how to commission good art.

This article gave me a sense of deja vu. You could substitute the words “Hollywood” and “movies” with “journalism” and “the media” respectively and you’d have an article dated sometime ago (tmatt would know the history much better than I) about a handful of groups interested in getting Christians into the field of journalism. I would know because it was one of these groups that gave me my first big boost in writing and reporting (and tmatt was one of the excellent instructors).

Have these groups been successful in journalism and will this group be successful in Hollywood?

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  • Molly

    “This article gave me a sense of deja vu.”

    This entry is giving me one. Didn’t one of the Borg just do this? And with the same picture? This must be one of the downsides of coming to a site regularly, I guess….

    “According to those interviewed by Brown, it’s not Hollywood that needs to change itself, it’s the church that needs to wake up and change Hollywood. The group raised about $600,000 from a group of foundations and they also hope to start a pastor program that would teach them how to commission good art.”

    Good luck with that. My guess is that Hollywood is as ingrained and inbred an organism as the federal government. The only way to realistically effect change is through MEGA bucks, not a piddling $600K. Mel had a good start with his passion piece, but so far, no one has managed to find a way to “do that again.” Not through lack of trying, though.

    By the way, what do you suppose it says about Hollywood and religion that there are so many ghost movies out these days? I noticed that last January (’04) and my daughter insists that she wants to go see “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” What sort of connection is going on here?

  • Avram

    Mel had a good start with his passion piece, but so far, no one has managed to find a way to “do that again.”

    Molly, you’re making the very same mistake that Hollywood studios make — assuming that a movie succeeds not because it’s a good movie (well-written, well-acted, good humor, good drama, whatever), or has some novel quality that appeals to viewers, but because of its subject matter.

  • Lucas Sayre

    Interesting stuff that was completely off my radar screen in a sense. Too bad that the Da Vinci Code is full of so many untruths and sensationaliztions which hurt, not help, the cause of religion– in Hollywood and elsewhere.

  • Molly

    “Molly, you’re making the very same mistake that Hollywood studios make”

    No, I meant Mel had a good start in showing Hollywood execs that a religion themed movie could make mountains of money; my comment had nothing to do with content. I am sorry if my snark made that unclear.

  • Joe

    Christ gave Christians a cultural mandate to be “salt, light, and leaven” in their spheres of influence. That presupposes human society, in all its various forms, would need such a corrective, preservative, redeeming, influence and that collective and intentional Christian action would be effective in providing it.

    I do not perceive how ACT ONE leaders are discharging this Christ-given mandate, I do not perceive them to even realize it exists. Ditto Gegrapha in the journalism field.

    Perhaps the following story is of some relevance, written by Godbeat reporter Julia Duin of Washington Post.


    Joe Carson, P.E.
    President, Affiliation of Christian Engineers
    Knoxville, TN


    Religion Helps Workers Speak Up

    Washington Times

    By Julia Duin
    Published August 22, 2005

    Recent news accounts on the ethics of whistleblowing have left out one major reason some government employees tell all — religion.
    Call it faith-based whistleblowing.

    Joe Carson, a nuclear safety engineer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, said it was his Christian worldview that impelled him to blow the whistle 19 times since 1990 on workplace and public-safety hazards at the Department of Energy, guardian of the nation’s nuclear stockpile.

    “Whistleblowers are thinking of what’s good for others, not just looking out for number one,” said Mr. Carson, 51.

    “If society wants to constrain evil, they license certain professionals to do so,” he said, “and I have a legal duty as a licensed professional engineer to blow whistles. Either you look the other way or confront what you believe is wrong.”

    Jesselyn Radack, a former ethics attorney for the Department of Justice and a member of Temple Sinai, a Reform synagogue in Northwest, said Exodus 23:2 persuaded her to blow the whistle in the case of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh.

    The verse, “Do not follow a multitude to do wrong. You shall not give perverse testimony in a dispute so as to pervert it in favor of the mighty,” was the central theme in her 1984 bat mitzvah, a coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish girls.

    It came to mind on Dec. 7, 2001, when she advised Justice’s criminal division not to interrogate Lindh without an attorney present. Lindh’s father had already retained counsel for his son.

    When the FBI did so anyway, while claiming Lindh’s rights had been respected, a federal judge began looking into the matter. When Mrs. Radack learned that e-mails concerning the case were missing from her files, she retrieved them from her computer hard drive and gave copies to Newsweek magazine.

    “I’m not a Bible thumper that goes around quoting Scripture,” she said. “But after September 11, there was such an outcry to get the terrorists dead or alive. What bothered me was the cutting of corners and the taking of shortcuts. In the DOJ’s ethics division, it was important to cut straight corners.”

    Calls for comment to the Department of Justice and its Office of Special Counsel, created to protect federal whistleblowers, were not returned.

    Mrs. Radack, who will be the keynote speaker Sept. 23 at a Whistleblowers for an Honest, Efficient and Accountable Government convention at the Watergate Hotel, said she’s spent $50,000 in attorney’s fees defending herself.

    “It unleashed the full force of the executive branch against me for four years,” she said, adding she ended up on a “no-fly list” and was put under criminal investigation, although no charges were brought.

    Rosemary Dew, a Lutheran who now works with the Department of Defense, said her decision to blow the whistle on sexual harassment in the FBI from 1978 to 1990 was based on Matthew 25:40, “Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.”

    She applied that thought to the treatment that she said many women and minorities received at the FBI, which she described as “a very creepy, aggressive, predatory kind of harassment I had never seen anywhere else.”

    “I decided whatever they’d do to the most disenfranchised of their employees, they’d do to the public.”

    Her experiences, chronicled in her 2003 book, “No Backup,” were out of her 13 years as an FBI supervisory special agent specializing in counterintelligence and counterterrorism.

    The Rev. Louis Clark, a Methodist pastor and lawyer who is president of the Government Accountability Project, said religion was a “significant factor” in 50 percent of the cases he’s dealt with. It also motivated several nationally known Catholic whistleblowers, he added, citing Coleen M. Rowley of the FBI, David Graham of the Food and Drug Administration and Burt Berube of General Services Administration.

    “It has to do with a strong value system, which most religions strongly cultivate,” he said. “They care about how something might impact your neighbor.”
    But Watergate conspirator Chuck Colson, who subsequently converted to Christianity, made a case against whistleblowers in a May 31 “NewsNight With Aaron Brown” regarding W. Mark Felt, the former FBI official exposed as Watergate’s “Deep Throat.”

    “He easily could have come to the officials responsible. If they hadn’t acted then, he would resign, have a press conference, and that would be entirely honorable,” Mr. Colson said.

    An astounded Mr. Carson sent a letter to Mr. Colson, calling his position “morally wrong.”

    Citing Mr. Colson’s “leadership position in a number of Christian ministries,” the June 9 letter said he was failing “to properly execute the church’s God-given office of confronting, via peaceable means whenever possible, the system of state-sponsored lawbreaking that punishes concerned federal employees who do their legal duty … in exposing governmental wrongdoing.”

    A July 19 response from one of Mr. Colson’s assistants thanked Mr. Carson for the “loving spirit” of his letter.

  • dlw

    I don’t think anyone who’s made it in Hollywood would risk criticizing it too much.

    I think if we want to loosen up Hollywood, it might help to even the playing field on the advertisements of movies. This could be done with a progressive tax on such advertisements that include a subsidy for foreign/independent films that have low budgets for the advertisement of their films in the US. This could be coupled with some antitrust action against cinemas to make it easier for Christian independent films to be made and to cut down the ability of Hollywood to export the more despicable parts of our culture to the rest of the world.

    I think the principle is that the rules of the game matter and we Christians need to get smarter in how we seek strategically changes in the rules.
    One such change I think that is needed is for professional organizations in Journalism and Engineering and elsewhere to be reinvigorated. Christians can and should play a leadership role in such reinvigoration in part by setting up their own organizations, challenging the prevalent notions of Christianity that has it mainly relevant to our personal or sex lives.