At 43 years old, I’ve never lived anywhere but the “Bible Belt” even though I’m left wondering why that belt is getting so much bigger. And over the last 25-30 years, more religious based movies have become more popular for all the wrong reasons.
About 20 years ago, you could got to any house in the south or middle America, and not find a VHS copy of The Left Behind movie displayed prominently in an entertainment center. The movie based on the best-selling book about the Apocalypse and End Times was released on video and DVD with vouchers that whenever it was released in a theater, the buyers had free admission. Very little movie theaters showed it. And almost none showed the sequels. Mainly because they were awful movies with the writers themselves, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, suing the filmmakers for breach of contract.
But it didn’t stop other filmmakers from making Christian-based movies. Around the same time as the Left Behind movies were still on the shelves of video rental places, a young 30-something man named Tyler Perry was releasing the first of his many film adaptations of his plays. The first was Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which I couldn’t even finish. I don’t know what Perry had in mind when he made this movie but it looked liked someone had decided to throw everything they could on a wall to see what stuck.
Diary is about a woman who is dumped by her lawyer husband who was abusive (and this is played up for laughs later) and she falls in love with Shemar Moore but takes care of hubs when he get shot in court by one of his clients. There’s also a Whitney Houston/Bobby Brown joke that seems out of place. The Boondocks did a great parody of this movie that pissed off Perry he did his damnedest to get it pulled off of Cartoon Network.
Diary also had Christian-based themes to it. And while other movies had toned it down, this one came out and said it. The Passion of the Christ was just released the year before and one of the most craziest media marketing, it become world news when its star Jim Caviezel even met with Pope John Paul II. Suddenly, everyone started talking about this awful movie about a man getting bloodied and beaten within an inch of his life as entertainment. I’ve sat through Passion once and a half.
Diary and Passion were both helped with the birth of social media. Suddenly, it became popular in the eyes of people you went to school with or someone who was your brother’s co-worker to say something about church or God. I once had a discussion with some students at Georgia Southern University about what they called “Sunday Christians,” the types who only go on Sundays and don’t care the rest of the week. Well, now we had “Social Media” Christians. And the next batch was “Movielover Christians.”
Maybe it was the millennium, but I was noticing more and more there was an emphasis on Christian-based merchandise and stores were popping up in strip malls across the place. Some of the TV shows such as The Veggie Tales and Bibleman were bringing the Christian messages first and searching for a plot later.
In 2006, two brothers in southwestern Georgia, Alex and Stephen Kendrick, would make a Christian-based football sports movie Facing the Giants and people would lose their mind. It’s an awful movie. I really have only seen snippets but I’ve had no desire to sit through the rest. Good movies do have bad scenes and roles but this is beyond terrible. When reading the description, it turns God into a magical genie who rewards those who pray even though that’s not how it supposed to work. Also, I have serious doubt covering small-town sports, a school district anywhere in America would allow a person to coach a team for so many seasons without a single win.
Unfortunately, movies by Tyler Perry and the Kendricks Brothers only perpetuate the stereotypes we associate with the people in their movies. Looking at Perry movies, everyone might assume that everyone who is an African-American and from the south is a devout Christian family person. This isn’t the case. If anything else, it shows just how under-represented BIPOC are in the entertainment industry.
Where are all the African-Americans who are atheist/agnostics or follow eastern spiritual religions and philosophies? They’re either portrayed holier than though Christians dancing in the aisles or screaming “Praise Jesus,” or very strict stoic Muslims in the Nation of Islam, or possibly the worst, as heavily into voodoo practices.
So, it’s no surprise on social media, you’re seeing BIPOC who are open about how they don’t have religious beliefs or don’t strongly practice them. Black men especially are never allowed to show their softer sides. But they are men who love their cats. Traditionally in movies, they have big dogs such as pitbulls, Dobermans or Rottweillers.
A lot of people in the south and the the “Bible Belt” don’t really consider themselves Christians or belong to any religion. It doesn’t make us bad people. More atheist and agnostic people I know are more willing to help out other people rather than hand them a Bible and tell them to start praying.
Movies like God’s Not Dead and its sequels that not only perpetuate negative stereotypes of Christians but also atheists. There is not one single public university or college in America that would allow a philosophy professor like the one in the movie to publicly shame their students for their religious beliefs. On the other hand, Christian colleges like Bob Jones University and Oral Roberts University have discriminated against non-white students and people with disabilities but hidden being religious liberties.
A news clip of Wolf Blitzer asking a woman in Moore, Okla., whose home was destroyed in the 2013 tornadoes about how she was thanking the Lord for being safe. She responded that she’s an atheist after a little laugh but said she doesn’t fault any other survivors for thanking the Lord. Of course, Blitzer just assumed everyone in Oklahoma went to church but it was a dumb question to ask. But her response was considerate.
And sadly, it’s usually the opposite. People scream and holler to others how they should “Thank the Lord or else.” And yet some movies have had a little of the guts to portray the problems in religion with condoning sexual assault and physical and domestic abuse. The most famous one is Spotlight. Then, there were movies like The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio or The Shack that showed how the church officials really don’t know how the handle domestic abuse.
But movies like Fireproof and War Room, made by the Kendricks Brothers only want to show the domestic abuse that exists in families or households where there are no strong Christian beliefs. At the same time movies like Not Without My Daughter are quick to show how Muslim households are full of domestic abuse. While Sally Fields’ character needs to leave her husband and Iran, it’s important for the wives in both Fireproof and War Room to stay in their marriages to make their husbands stronger Christian men.
You got to draw a line in the sand somewhere. None of the three movies I listed in the above paragraph are good. Yet, people talk with great praise about two of them while blasting the other one. And you can guess which is which?
Perry, himself, is no fan of strong woman. If you look at Diary, the woman is clearly treated terribly but still manages to take care of her ex-husband. I’ve heard in the play she gets back together with him. I’m sure filmgoers in 2006 would’ve never seen the movie if that was the case. For the most part, these Christian-based movies seem to show that the man, or the husband, is more important. In War Room, an older woman tells someone to “duck” the next time her husband hits her.
I know too many women who were victims of domestic abuse. I’m sure “ducking” wasn’t their problem. Men hit, stomp, kick, slap, and strangle the women in their relationships and to hear their horror stories, the Kendrick Brothers should be ashamed to make light of it. And Perry himself for having Madea use domestic abuse as a joke in how much more a woman will get from a divorce settlement is disgusting.
I just hope Perry and the Kendrick Brothers don’t practice what they write about. Unfortunately, if you want to really get sick to your stomach, read the favorable reviews of their movies on Imdb.com. No wonder their movies have made so much money, many other people feel women need to learn their place in “Christian households”
I’m not saying filmmakers can’t nor shouldn’t have any religious themes in their movies. I’m just saying that there is a time for entertainment and time for a sermon. And there are several clergy out there who could make paint dry more enthralling than their sermons. But you shouldn’t pay attention to anyone or anything that argues men should have the final say and should do what they want. Movies like Signs and surprisingly Groundhog Day have done a good job at telling a compelling story with a religious/spiritual theme.
Maybe Perry and the Kendrick Brothers are afraid that more women are realizing they don’t need a man like their parents and grandparents did. There’s still sexism but women don’t have the limited options they once did.
Sadly, I feel some of the success of the Perry and Kendrick Brothers movies are based on audiences being forced to attend them by fellow family and church members. Guilt and peer pressure are two things they’re good at. If you’re wanting to catch a movie, but for any reason, people want to tag along, they’re going to have a bigger say in what everyone sees. If I remember correctly, Fireproof was shown at a local civic center in a nearby town, which incidentally used to be a movie theater.
I’m sure you could literally show a movie of paint drying on a Christian-themed mural and have it make a lot of money. Some people just seemed to be attracted to anything that is Christian or religion based.
With more people enjoying streaming services and major directors such as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese focusing more on streaming their movies, can these Christian-based movies find a bigger audience? Or will the lack of people have any religious preference stop people from watching these movies?
Perry says he’s never going to portray Madea again, which is good for a number of reasons. And while he’s putting the money he’s made from those movies to good use in helping the communities, there’s been financial questions about the God’s Not Dead and Kendrick Brothers movies, which have made a lot of money. “Hollywood Accounting” has kept people from getting the money they’re owed. Scarlett Johansson has taken Disney to court over it. But how much has the Kendricks spent versus how much they earned?
I think a YouTube poster made a video about all the “donations” on Fireproof. Does a movie that gets donations from thousands of people to make a movie cheaply use the profits to make the those in the community better? It was made for $500,000 and looks it but made over $33 million. War Room made about $74 million on a $3 million. God’s Not Dead made almost $65 million on a $2 million budget.
I’m just wondering if the real goal of these movies isn’t to spread the word but to use religious tax exemptions to make a big fortune. If so, these filmmakers are perpetuating the stereotype that people are just in religion for money.