How's that for a blog title? Now that I've got your attention I'm going to share my feelings about "Christian Movies" and the genre that it has become.
First, take a moment and go to Google. Type in the words, "Why are Christian " and see what Google Instant’s Autocomplete Suggestions pop up. If you aren't able to Google it, I've screen captured it for you below:
I've had friends and family members test this in different parts of the country on different devices and they all had the same results, "Why are Christian movies bad". Now that doesn't mean that other suggestions won't come up first if you're in a different country, but this seems to be the highest ranked result within the United States and that seems apropos to this discussion since the genre of "Christian" movies is a decidedly American venture.
Now that we know that a whole lot of people are wondering why Christian movies are so bad maybe we can talk about the reasons why. There are so many great articles and blogs that you can find when clicking on the search results above - so I'm not even going to attempt to write something in broad strokes. So, I'm going to focus on the one reason I believe the genre is laughable, and likely offensive, to so many.
Before going too much further, I should say that in my career I've dabbled in the genre so my feelings about all of this are as a movie lover as well as a movie maker. I've failed more than I've succeeded. I have well earned opinions based on thoughtful real world application - so please know that I'm not throwing any stones when speaking about this - I'm merely pointing out the thorn in my own eye.
My Dad and I have always talked about this subject. (You can read more about my upbringing in the church and movies in previous blog posts.) These conversations are usually heated (one sided by me) because he knows how much I dislike these movies and how it makes my blood boil. If I only have one button to push - this is it.
You can see my vitriol coursing through the veins of my very first feature film that I made when I was 21 years old, Reynard the Fox. When I wrote the screenplay, I told my Dad that I was going to make the best "Christian Movie" I could imagine. It's a movie made for one man to experience on a loop for eternity in hell.
Here is an excerpt from a review it received shortly after it's premiere in 1999.
"It’s the blistering, electric way Freeman presents his chilling and sordid tragedy that sets this film apart. The screen is always alive; the grainy, scratchy B&W imagery flickering, flashing and jumping throughout. Add to that, a cacophony of punctuating percussive sound effects and a handful of well-timed, bassy “demon voice” effects and you’ve got a horrific chunk of movie ickiness that’ll make you want to shower in battery acid. You may not want to watch this gripping film, which seems destined for underground cult status, but put “Reynard the Fox” in the VCR and you will anyway." - Film Threat
Well, I accomplished the goal of making a movie that was impossible to watch if you weren't the audience (of one) that it was made for. That leads me to why I believe the majority of Christian films are universally thought of as "bad". Ultimately, I believe it's because they aren't honest with themselves about who their audience is and what it is they are trying to say.
Christian movies, by and large, are promoted by the filmmakers and actors in interviews (and on social media) as tools to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus. There are some pretty obvious problems with using this type of media for "evangelism".
Let's jump into the deep end by saying people don't like to be preached at: Not even Christians. (At least when it comes to everything other than Jesus.) For example: Ask a Christian their opinion about a vegan who comes to dinner and preaches about why they should no longer eat meat and you'll hear what I mean. Humans don't like other humans telling them what to do or why they are wrong; it just solidifies their stance to ensure they don't end up like the egotistical person doing the preaching. That's why Jesus told parables. (Parable - a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels.) I'll let Jesus explain why:
“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given...This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand...But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” - Matthew 13:11,13,16)
And He goes on to say this:
“Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.’ For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them." - Matthew 13:14-15
"Christian movies" made by people who can "see and hear" presenting known truths to other people who have already "seen and heard" is not evangelism; it's preaching to the choir. People's hearts have become dull. They have ears that can barely hear and eyes that are closed. Notice, He never said they can't hear or won't ever open their eyes. He told parables to help better understand His truth - telling applicable stories to engage the imagination and showcase the meaning through story. Isn't that what the "Christian Movie" genre should be all about? Why isn't it?
Well, it's a simple answer that everyone knows but is reluctant to say - money and fear. Christian movies cost money to make and the filmmakers, the financiers, and actors are all afraid of everyone in the choir because the film's perceived success is in their hands. And that wouldn't be a bad thing - if they were honest about it publicly. At this point, these movies are tailored to make money from Christians and have little interest in sharing the noise and sights that they alone hear and see. Again, I've learned this through my own experiences and have no interest in throwing stones. It is simply - the way it is.
I've struggled my entire life coming to terms with who I am. Those that know me in the movie industry know little of my faith and those that know me by my faith know little of my love of movies. I've acted appropriately and inappropriately in both worlds; I could very easily be called a hypocrite and have not always been myself in both circles of life. I've been scared and have often felt alone. The "Christian" and "secular" film world do not mix because I can only imagine (pun intended) they don't see one audience able to reconcile their beliefs with the other.
As I've gotten older, I've learned to love who I am and enjoy being myself in every room that I walk into. I'm a broken human who enjoys all sorts of genre movies (except the obvious one) that has also been healed by a truth that I've seen and heard. But, you'll never hear me preach about it. I'll never tell you how I think you should live or that I'm better than you because of my faith; and I'll certainly never tell you you shouldn't eat meat though I have heard there are many health benefits. Not to mention the fact that there is zero percent chance I'll always act appropriately in either world; sorry in advance.
In return I may ask, from time to time, for others to do the same for me. If you're a Christian reading this or see me comment on a wildly ridiculous or inappropriate movie - talk to me about it. Engage in a conversation and get to know why I am the way I am; spoiler alert my Dad had a lot to do with it. And if you're a heathen (joke), and you see or hear me talking about my faith publicly - talk to me about it. I know it's easier for people to lump everyone into a category and forget the simple fact that we are a fleshy mess of bones and tears. I am not a representative of either club and have problems with both. I am, though, a representative of Jesus and will do my best to show His love to everyone I encounter in my day to day life. I'll fail and you'll probably see me do it; but I'll get back up and try to do better because He's shown me how to through a myriad of applicable stories that have engaged my imagination.
So to close, if and when I get to make "Wretch Like Me" it will be honest and from my hard fought point of view. Characters will be fully formed and no simple answers will be given. Nobody will be judged for what they believe or don't. I will not make a movie with the sole purpose of making money from Christians. Nor will I make a movie with the purpose of "converting" any heathens (again, joke) to Christianity. I'm working very hard to express myself and the often difficult reality that I've lived. I promise that the truth I yearn to express will be hard for everyone to swallow. In that way, I may once again be making a movie for an audience of one.
"The most honest form of filmmaking is to make a film for yourself." - Peter Jackson