1. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
Hollywood hates Christian films…right? Most new Christian films receive the piñata treatment, while secular Hollywood critics get in line with a bat. Christians have generally shrugged off the critical butchery with comments like, “hey, they hated Jesus, too!” or “this movie wasn’t made for them.” Hollywood’s derision for oh Faith-Based films seems like a forgone conclusion….
….except when it’s not. The film I Can Only Imagine hit theaters last weekend with an impressive $17 million debut. The more surprising part was how it performed critically. The film received an A on Cinemascore. Of course, that score is determined by surveying audiences as they leave the theaters, which in this case would predominantly be Christians who are more likely to praise the film’s message than criticize its execution. Yet, on Rotten Tomatoes, it also has a decent fresh rating of 65% (higher than other recent blockbusters like Pacific Rim, Tomb Raider, and A Wrinkle in Time). Not world changing, but a welcome surprise departure from the usual trend.
Several more Christian films will be hitting theaters in the coming weeks (corresponding to Easter). Paul, Apostle of Christ is already receiving mixed, but not overwhelming negative, reviews. Perhaps Hollywood isn’t as predisposed to automatically hate any movie which offers a message of faith and religion as we tend to think. Perhaps we just need higher-quality movies.
(If you missed it, find my thoughts on Faith-based films here).
2. Two Sides To Every Story
Last year the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, a drama dealing with teenage suicide, stirred up a ton of controversy. Many people condemned the show for glorifying suicide and for its dangerous potential to negatively influence young viewers. The controversy forced Netflix to add a disclaimer for the episodes, as well as release several videos about suicide preventionThis week, as the show approaches a 2nd season, a study was released by Northwestern University which adds a new perspective to the narrative. The survey of 5,400 young viewers and parents from 5 different countries, revealed that the show actually had a positive influence, such as a significant increase in youth’s willingness to dialogue about the issues after watching the show etc. You can read the results of the study here: https://13reasonsresearch.soc.northwestern.edu/index.html
If you’ve been following my blog for long, you know I’m rarely satisfied with clear-cut or simple answers when it comes to art and culture. I think both the initial negative backlash and the more positive survey results are valid and demonstrate how complex our experience with and the influence of art can be. Almost always when I hear people talk about “the influence of Hollywood on today’s young people” it’s with a wholly negative connotation. I think it’s important to remember that the influence of Art can also be positive.
(A few weeks ago I wrote about the influence of violence in art: Do Violent Movies Make Us Violent People)
3. Sanitized Swashbucklers
Disney revealed that it has made some changes to the famous Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Previously, guests sailed past a scene women were being sold off as brides to the pillaging pirates. Now, in under the banner of the need “to keep moving forward,” the scene has been modified so that the bride-to-be is now a pirate, who is auctioning off the villagers’ possessions, rather than their young women.
For some, the change is a welcome modernization in a #MeToo and #TimesUp world, For others, it’s another example of a political-correct culture going overboard (excuse the pun!). Either way, it’s an interesting conundrum. I think there’s a danger in forcing too many of our present-day values and concerns onto depictions of the past. This is similar to how people have complained about the marginalization of women in something like Game of Thrones (which takes place in a fictional world that marginalizes women, and was based off of a historical period where women were marginalized). Or the ridiculous complaints about the historical war-drama Dunkirk not having enough ethnic diversity. On the other hand, this isn’t high-art intended to enlighten people to life in the past. It’s a kid’s ride with singing robot pirates. Historical accuracy was never a defining feature of the fantasy adventure.
So, while I’m totally fine with the changes to the ride, I think it’s a prickly path to travel down if our culture is going to start demanding that historical narratives or fictional worlds reflect 21st century ideals and values. Sometimes the most powerful way to explore current sensibilities is to present a world without them.
What do you think about these headlines? Do you agree? Disagree? Did I miss any other relevant news this week? Let me know in the comments section!