In this morning’s email newsletter from the folks at Religion News Service, editor Kevin Eckstrom raised his eyebrow high (no, honest, you can sense it in the copy) and quipped:
Pretty sure we’ve seen about 5,429 versions of this story already.
Right. We get it. Hollywood is trying to lure Christian audiences to the cineplex. Again. Meanwhile, it other news …
Well, “this story” was the new feature in The Los Angeles Times that ran under an oh-so-predictable double-decker headline that proclaimed:
Hollywood tries to win Christians’ faith
With the box-office success of ‘Son of God,’ ‘God’s Not Dead’ and the controversial ‘Noah,’ more faith-based movies are in the works. But experts warn not to treat Christians as a monolithic audience.
Now, the only part of Eckstrom’s quip that I question is that very precise number — 5,429.
Don’t get me wrong, he may have done the hard work online and in LexisNexis and come up with a list of 5,429 previous urgent mainstream news reports ever since 1965 (I picked that date because of the breakthrough release of “The Sound of Music” that sent legions of evangelicals rushing to theaters to see a movie about a nun) describing the various ways Hollywood producers have tried to understand the Christian audience and get it to show up on cue.
I don’t doubt that there have been that many stories. Trust me on that.
Still, I sent Eckstrom this email reply in which I focused on a more symbolic total.
I was going to say 666 versions of that story and just let it go at that.
But one more time, let’s roll out the epic language for the obvious:
Recent faith-based and Bible-inspired films such as “Noah,” “Son of God,” and “God’s Not Dead” have galvanized Hollywood with robust showings at the box office. One analyst dubbed 2014 “the year of the biblical movie.” But with the surge of major movie studios, marquee stars and prestige filmmakers lining up to shoot faith-based projects, Hollywood is finding it isn’t always easy to usher viewers from the church pew to the multiplex.
Religious moviegoers may be actively searching out more spiritually engaging content, but they remain on high alert for perceived distortions of biblical doctrine or any attempt at a bait and switch. …Nevertheless, persuading religious leaders to talk up the movies in a church setting as a means of sparking larger conversations about spiritual uplift has become a top priority in creating the kind of pre-release awareness that can lead to massive ticket sales. The strategic marketing and publicity firm Grace Hill Media has applied that tactic to marketing films as diverse as “The Blind Side,” “Dolphin Tale” and “Les Misérables” to the faith community.
Well, I’m glad that the article mentioned “The Blind Side,” because the Los Angeles Times did ion fact produce a lengthy feature about Christian issues linked to the success of that film. But there have been so many other campaigns of this kind, leading to articles of precisely this kind.
Were there articles about this phenomenon back in the days of “Ben Hur” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told”?
The first time I can remember major coverage on this topic — in secular and religious press — was for “Chariots of Fire.”
Then, obviously, you had the explosion of ink surrounding the “The Passion of the Christ.” And what about “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”? And “Amazing Grace”? And “Bruce Almighty”? And “A Walk to Remember”? And on and on. I am not even including the whole church-people making their own movies phenomenon, with “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof” and others.
Help me out here, folks. What are the other obvious crossover movies that I am forgetting that have inspired, one after another, stories of this kind. At the very least, isn’t it time to include basic background paragraphs in these stories to acknowledge the fact that this is not a news story, but a story that has been unfolding over several decades?