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Hollywood Insight 02/23/17

Oscar Countdown: Why Movies Matter -- from a Christian's Perspective

Going to the movies

HOLLYWOOD.

What comes to mind when you read that word? What emotion does it evoke?

Some of you just rolled your eyes. You're tired of actors using their "pulpit" to preach their politics, which are usually opposite to your own.

Some of you automatically went negative because the industry, at times, saturates our lives with content you'd never want your kids to see.

Some of you might be like me. I’m a Christian and I love movies. I love art that inspires, entertains, informs, and affects change. And movies can do that. Some films do that so well.

When I think of Hollywood, I see writers staring glossy-eyed at a script in development. I see producers working tirelessly, at all hours, to see a movie through pre-production. I see crews feverishly prepping elaborate sets for the next shot. I see costumed actors rehearsing lines. I see film composers warming up the orchestra in the recording studio. I see directors with editors downing jugs of coffee as they piece together a story.

From a young age, I was all about movies. A good story caught my attention. It’s probably one of the reasons I liked going to Sunday School so much. I’d hear about these incredible stories from the Old Testament and was introduced to a master storyteller, one who’s stood the test of time -- Jesus. I mean think about it. Think about the stories (parables) he told and the layered life he lived. Talk about conflict and resolution.

Years ago, Christian author John Eldredge (a favorite of mine) solidified how my faith and passion for stories intersected in his book, Epic: The Story God Is Telling and the Role That Is Yours to Play.

"Christianity, in its true form, tells us that there is an Author and that he is good, the essence of all that is good and beautiful and true, for he is the source of all these things. It tells us that he has set our hearts’ longings within us, for he has made us to live in an Epic. It warns that the truth is always in danger of being twisted and corrupted and stolen from us because there is a Villain in the Story who hates our hearts and wants to destroy us. It calls us up into a Story that is truer and deeper than any other, and assures us that there we will find the meaning of our lives." – John Eldredge, Epic

For Christians, there can be no greater storyteller than God (see The Bible). He's creative and we were all given a measure of that gene. And for better (and worse), Hollywood is a by-product of that God-given creativity.

The entertainment industry is, unarguably, a massive pillar in modern-day society. It's a community full of master storytellers, who create stories that invade and shape our culture. Last year, the global box office generated more than 35 billion dollars. 35 BILLION!

This weekend, the Oscars will honor last year's films that are, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, achievements in cinema. And among the nominees are some real worthy contenders.

La La Land swept the nominations with a record-tying 14 nods and it’s thought that the Ryan Gosling/Emma Stone musical will sweep most of the categories. Of the films I’ve seen, a few others stand out – namely Hidden Figures, Hacksaw Ridge, Fences, and Silence. (Caution is advised for the latter three.)

Hidden Figures is a triumph. It rightfully, and finally, honors the three African American women who launched NASA into space despite infuriating racism. If you haven’t seen it, go to a theater right now and buy a ticket. This PG movie is one we should all see.

Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, nominated for six Academy Awards, is one of last year's best. It's truly powerful. Starring Best Actor nominee Andrew Garfield, the film is the intense account of a Christian WWII medic who heroically saved 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa. (Check out what Gibson and the cast had to say about Garfield's role as Desmond Doss.)

Fences, based on August Wilson’s critically acclaimed play, stars Oscar winner Denzel Washington and Golden Globe winner Viola Davis (both nominated for acting awards). The film goes to groundbreaking depths and the light at the end of this dramatic retelling is absolutely inspiring.

Silence received only one Oscar nod (for cinematography), but Martin Scorsese’s film (also starring Andrew Garfield) about two missionaries who face deadly persecution in 17th century Japan is beyond soul-stirring. The Rated-R film is a tough one to watch, but is a must-see for people of faith. (It’s a real shame it didn't have much success at the box office.)

There are aspects of the film industry that may trouble you. I understand that. I simply ask that you consider Hollywood with an open heart. They are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons. They experience triumphs and draughts, faith and doubt just like you and me. And their stories reflect that. We get lost in them and find ourselves by the end of a good movie. They make us laugh, cry, and think.

As far as award speeches go, don't begrudge them their 45 seconds. Each winner that takes the stage and a trophy this weekend earned their talking time (however short it may be) and I, for one, won't fault him or her for using it (we'd all do the same thing). We don't have to jump on every bandwagon. We don't have to agree. But, we can listen. God hears us. So, let's extend that same courtesy to each other.

Everything that comes out of Hollywood is not good. That's something on which most of us can agree. But, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Instead of standing against "them", why don't we get involved in the conversation -- by supporting (and going to the theaters to watch) movies that uplift and inspire (no matter who makes, stars, or writes them).

The point of this blog post isn't to get you to ignore Hollywood's flaws or to even get you to tune in to an awards show. It's meant to encourage the faith community to embrace the arts community.

Let's pray for, not against. Let's see the humanity in and feel compassion for the men, women, and children who devote their lives to telling some of the great stories of our time. Let's show faith, hope, and love to Hollywood.

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