The Real Mainstream Audience
By Ken Walker-
Last May I wrote about the burgeoning production of biblically-themed movies and television shows that were springing up in Hollywood after the success of the History Channel’s The Bible mini-series.
As if to demonstrate the validity of this trend, I recently saw a story about producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett signing a pact to take portions of the mini-series into theaters next year.
While Son of God will use portions of The Bible, it will include additional scenes that weren’t part of the 10-hour-long TV production.
Major Film Release
“The movie deserves a big studio behind it,” Burnett told Movieguide, the publication produced by film critic Ted Baehr. “We have crafted a powerful, stand-alone movie.”
Some would say this is just good business. After all, The Bible was nominated for three Emmy Awards and averaged 15 million viewers over its five-week run. Since it concluded on TV, the DVD has sold more than one million copies, making it the best-selling TV-to-disc title of the past two years.
However, I think it amplifies the truth of what Jonathan Bock of Grace Hill Media told me last spring. After years of watching others create culture, Christians have a golden opportunity to shape it, he says.
“We have fought and scratched for a dozen years to catch up and be ‘relevant,’” says Bock, who has helped publicize some of Tinseltown’s biggest films. “And here we are. So what will we do with this moment?”
For those who don’t recall, Downey first achieved acclaim as an angel in the decade-long TV series, Touched by An Angel. I remember my amazement the first time I watched it and heard Downey quoting Bible verses (though not giving the references.)
Her husband, Burnett, is the mastermind behind such reality shows as The Voice, Survivor and The Apprentice. In addition, the duo has signed to produce a regular series for NBC titled AD: Beyond the Bible.
“Their success with The Bible and now, the theatrical version of Son of God, is testimony to Movieguide’s long-held contention, as proven by theatrical movie and home video sales…, that people want uplifting entertainment with strong Christian, biblical values,” the publication wrote.
The Reality of “Passion Dollars”
Curious what kind of reaction he had to this latest news, I contacted Phil Cooke, one of the movie producers I interviewed earlier. Cooke was quick to point that The Bible didn’t start a faith-based trend; its origins go back to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
While plenty of other Christian-themed movies were released prior, Passion caught Hollywood and the media off guard regarding the size and sheer buying power of the Christian audience, Cooke says.
“The term ‘passion dollars’ was actually coined following its release,” Cooke says. “That (referred to) the enormous amount of money Christian audiences were willing to spend to see movies and TV programming that took their faith seriously.”
Since 2004, a range of faith-oriented (though not always PG-rated) movies like Bruce Almighty (which Cooke believe contains the single-most compelling conversion scene in a film), the Book of Eli and Blindside have earned millions.
So have the more overt Christian films like Fireproof and Courageous, produced by a Southern Baptist church in small-town Georgia. It is worth noting that some bombed—like Machine Gun Preacher, an R-rated production laced with profanity and violence.
Asking what this teaches, Cooke points out that Hollywood and the media industry have long catered to relatively small special interest groups. Yet Pew Research estimates there are more than 91 million evangelical Christians in the United States, which makes them the largest “special interest group” in the country.
“That’s why I think it puzzling that we call the secular audience ‘mainstream,’” Cooke says. “The truth is, according to the numbers, the faith based audience is actually the mainstream audience, and the secular audience is the fringe audience.”
Many in Middle America would agree.