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Is Hollywood finally 'getting' us?
Scripps Howard News Service


November 23, 2006

Is Hollywood getting religion?

So I wondered after seeing a pre-screening of "The Nativity Story," the film coming out Dec. 1 about the birth of Jesus.

The movie, from New Line Cinema, is a straight-forward and compelling drama recounting the story of the birth of Christ which clearly portrays him as, well, the Son of God. Now, that's no small wonder itself considering it comes from a major studio that brought us fare like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

A professing Christian screenwriter, Mike Rich - think: "The Rookie" - wrote the screenplay. Anyway, as Time magazine recounted in a recent article called "Hooray for Holy-wood," Hollywood seems to be discovering, or rediscovering, that faith works. Or at least it sells.

"One Night with the King," the story of the Biblical Esther (and produced by professing Christian Matt Crouch) opened in October in 900 theaters, and had cameos by Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole. Disney's Christian allegory "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was a hit last Christmas season. The new FoxFaith, a division of 20 Century Fox, soon will be releasing about "half a dozen Christian-theme films a year" said Time. Lions Gate and Sony also are also developing movies with overtly spiritual or religious themes.

As Charlie Nelson, formerly with Disney and now with Grace Hill Media - a firm which markets films to religious and pro-family audiences - told me, Hollywood is finally getting that it makes sense to produce films to which people can take whole families, not just a spouse or a date. There is strength, or at least money, in numbers. And so it's no accident, Nelson explained, movies are increasingly "PG," as opposed to "R," rated.

Whether the movie is overtly Christian or not, I love it when I can take all four of my kids to a film (the youngest of whom is 5) and just not cringe. If the film has something edifying to offer, I may even throw in some popcorn. From "Cars," to "Ice Age" to "RV," that seems to be becoming more and more possible.

Of course, Hollywood is just responding to the market. What's interesting to me is, well, the market. In part I agree with popular film critic and radio talk show host Michael Medved who says that Hollywood's overtly liberal politics turned off movie goers to the point that in 2004 and 2005 there was a huge drop-off at the box office. But I'm betting the largest reason for the drop was more subtle than Michael Moore being the darling of Hollywood; I think it's that, for too long, Hollywood has lived in its own world, both literally and figuratively, and just wasn't giving the typical American family a whole lot that they could relate to.

Though occasionally a great family film got through, for the most part it felt like Hollywood didn't know we were here.

That all changed in 2004 when Mel Gibson produced "The Passion of the Christ." Not exactly family fare in the Saturday afternoon matinee sense of the term, but a blockbuster success that let Hollywood know people liked meaningful, faith-based films. No doubt the earlier success of the "Lord of the Rings" series, which was actually considered a risky venture at its outset, played into this change of heart, too.

Anyway, the memo appears to have been received in triplicate. I'm not saying for a minute that Hollywood is starting to look like the rest of America. I'm not even sure I would want it to. I think "Pulp Fiction," "The Matrix" and last year's best picture winner "Crash" were phenomenally great films that I enjoyed but films I wouldn't necessarily take all my kids to see. I'm just also thrilled there are more and more movies from the fun "Happy Feet" (and no I don't care about it's environmentalist agenda, and neither do my children), to the genuinely inspiring "The Nativity Story," to which I can enjoy taking my kids.

I don't even care if the turnaround is just about money for Hollywood. In fact, I love it because people vote with their wallets. So more than telling me where Hollywood is, its new emphasis on family and overtly religious films is encouraging precisely because it's telling me where America is.


Betsy Hart is the author of the forthcoming "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids - and What to Do About It."
E-mail her at letterstohart(at)

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