Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s this morning’s Faith, Media & Culture Hot List:

1. Actor L. Warren Young  sees something special in Field of Vision. The talented African-American actor, who you may recognize for his roles in such films as The Blind Side and We Are Marshall, says the TV movie (airing tonight at 8:00 PM ET on NBC) says it was the movie’s sensitive handling of the issue of school bullying that drew him to the project.

“As a professional actor, I’ve been in the business for 40 years, and as an actor, we do look for movies, we do look for scripts that are, that give us some body. When I came across this script, and when I read it, when I read the part of the coach, it hit me as an actor professionally, because in the script it gave the coach, who with most coaches, and with most sports, when winning is everything it gave the coach the choice of saying that you must do the right thing. It’s not always about winning. It’s mostly about people. And if you get those people to do the right thing, then you know, a lot of times, just as in life, a lot of times, things will go right if we only give it the opportunity to do that. When I read the full script and when I was on set, I was talking to some people and they were playing up on the bullying aspect of the film. And I can remember (laughing) I’m a pretty big guy if anyone has seen me, but I can remember when I was in elementary school that I, for a short time was, bullied. I was bullied. It was for lunch money, but I was bullied, and I remember myself personally, that helplessness, that feeling of What can I do. I can’t go do the teacher. I can’t tell anybody else, because that will mean I’ll be ratting out these people, and there may be worse consequences. And I remembered that, and this movie shows that if you do, you can, you can go to somebody that you trust, and you can discuss the things are done in the dark. It must be put into the light. And once you put it into the light, then you can find some answers to those questions and this is an age old thing. There’s nothing that started, I think that now, since we ‘re in the age of the computer, and the websites, and all that we get all the communication, we get the message a quicker now. But this has been going on for a long time and hopefully with this movie, and with other movies, people can see this and say to themselves ‘Hey, let’s do something about it’.”

His recollection of personally experiencing bullying as a child mirrors comments by Faith Ford (who plays the mother of Tyler, the high school football player who decides to stand with a bullied boy) who, in an online chat earlier this week, said “I have had personal experiences with bulling in elementary school because I was a shy, skinny child.”

I can also remember instances of being bullied in school (like Ford, I was skinny). I think its a fairly universal issue in people’s lives — whether experiencing it themselves or uncomfortably watching as others are bullied. And, of course, even the bullies may sometimes acting out in response to bullying they may experience at home. It’s all a vicious cycle (emphasis on the word “vicious”) that we should all work to stop or, at least, lessen.  Whether kids are bullied over sexual orientation (as has been much in the news lately), physical handicaps, religion, race or general perceived dorkiness, it’s always wrong.

Here are some fresh clips along with my review below.

Field of Vision (Saturday 8:00 ET, NBC)
Synopsis: A mysterious video camera that somehow reveals secrets of the past comes into the possession of Lucy McFarland, the younger sister of  Tyler, Sinclair High School’s star quarterback. When the camera reveals that some of his teammates have been mercilessly bullying troubled new transfer student Cory Walker, Tyler has a decision to make. Does he expose the perpetrators and risk the school championship or do the right thing stand up in defense of Cory?Why you should watch: The sixth installment of Walmart & P&G’s Family Movie Night franchise is certainly timely with bullying so much in the news lately. It’s also a refreshing story of kids struggling to do the right thing in a world were adults aren’t addled idiots struggling to learn how to be cool from their kids. It’s also a film that’s not afraid to display its heart without (as so many movies and TV shows do these days) immediately undercutting the sentiment with some sort of supposedly edgy throw-away line that neuters the original point.  The pacing, particularly in the beginning, could be a little brisker but, if you stick with it, chances are you’ll find yourselves pulled in and rooting for these characters. 


2. Will the networks support Walmart/P&G Family Movie Initiative? Producing quality family films on a regular basis is laudable goal but, at least as I see it, finding willing producers and eager audiences for such material hasn’t been the problem. It’s the distribution side of the equation where things seem to break down — particularly on television where the networks seem to resist programming family-oriented shows as they pursue edgier teen and young adult material.

I put that issue to Brian Wells of Flyover Studios (producer of the Walmart/P&G films) and Ben Simon, Director of Brand Marketing at Walmart, who is heading up the Family Movie Initiative.

Here’s what they told me:

Brian Wells: “Well I would throw one thing on that and I’m sure Ben has strong perspective on this. First of all, I would say it’s really easy to paint with a broad brush and I would tell you we found some wonderful folks at the networks who believe in this kind of thing and want to see this happen. And so there’s some wonderful folks at NBC, and other places that we’ve talked to about this who really want to do what it takes to make something like this. Yet absolutely it is a challenge and absolutely there is not a lot that gets to the air for a million reasons. There’s not a lot of a lot of things that gets to the air. It’s a very very tough gig to get something on network television, much less something like this but the end all answer to this is you know, we’ve kind of answered inherently that this is family movie night brought to you by Proctor and Gamble and Wal-Mart when you have Proctor and Gamble and Wal-Mart walking in the room and saying Hey, you know, this is what we would like, it’s just good business. You know, take a listen to them. So with a little bit of what we’re doing is a little bit of a throw-back, Texaco Star Theatre. The Kraft Food Hour, you know that kind of thing. The core answer to that question is you follow the money. You follow the money and it’s the marketers money that’s being spent on these shows and when they take an interest in getting some of this content out there because it serves their business needs, it will happen. It’s not easy but it will happen.”

Ben Simon: “And the networks have been really great partners as Brian had mentioned. I think one of the things that we’re trying to evolve is the definition, maybe some of the perceptions around quote-unquote family programming. I think there’s a kind of some residual feeling within the television world that family friendly programming is by nature cheesy, not interesting, and it’s not relevant to a families today. And if it were we would be making it. And so we’re trying through our efforts to redefine the definition of family-friendly programming. And this is really mass-audience programming. If you look at where the demos, the largest demographics are in the United States are 35 million moms and 75 million kids. And other than rare exceptions, there are not a lot of programs that are specifically made for that broad audience co-viewing occasion. There’s a lot of stuff for young adults to watch you know 18-25 year olds to watch by themselves. There’s a lot of things for women 18-49 to watch by themselves. There’s a lot of things for males 18-35 to watch but there’s not much for the entire family. Particularly in prime-time for the entire family to watch together. And redefining the definition of family friendly. Again it needs to be good and great. And it’s got to be something that can’t be perceived to kids as “spinach” and I’m only watching this because my mom is making me because it’s good for me. And it can’t also be too kid-ish and hokey for the adults where they don’t want to watch because it’s not really geared towards them. It’s too cartoon-ish for kids, really needs to hit in that sweet spot where both audiences come together and it’s a real meaningful occasion for both. And that’s what we’re trying to do. Kind of re-define family programming and it really does look a lot like great programming that we all remember growing up with. Fact of the matter is that there’s just not enough of that out there in the marketplace today. And as I said before, our hope is that through these efforts that it will have a broader catalytic impact on TV as a whole where people will say smart money is moving into more family programming, look at what these great advertisers and brands are doing, let’s make their jobs easier by making more great programming. That’s a big win for families. We all win at the end of the day. And that rising tide really lifts all boats because it meets our objectives as advertisers and the business needs that we have, and it meets this unmet need with consumers for more sources of family programming.”

Here’s hoping they’re right.

3. Tracy Morgan crosses the line with anti-gay “joke.” From The Wrap: NBC Chairman of Entertainment Robert Greenblatt and “30 Rock” executive producer Tina Fey issued statements lamenting series star Tracy Morgan’s anti-gay remarks at a recent stand-up performance, which went viral after an attendee posted them on Facebook…Morgan’s “30 Rock” co-star Alec Baldwin tweeted only: “Oh that Tracy.”Advocacy groups weren’t so taciturn.”At a time when bullying and  harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth is at an all-time high – when kids are being assaulted, are dying – to joke about committing violence against a child is outrageous and reprehensible,” Jody Huckaby, executive director of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said in a statement Friday. “As a celebrity, Mr. Morgan needs to understand that his words have power; inciting violence against gay and lesbian kids in the name of comedy – stating that he would stab his own son to death if he was gay – is absolutely unconscionable. A simple apology is not enough – Mr. Morgan must take meaningful action to prove the sincerity of that apology.” The Human Rights Campaign also said Morgan has to do more.
IMHO: Morgan’s so-called joke was abhorrent and should be condemned but as John Nolte @ Big Hollywood says “Tracy Morgan has since apologized and this is likely the last we’ll (hear) about this story because Morgan didn’t direct “The Passion of the Christ” and has attacked Sarah Palin with sexual slurs.”
Noting the standard Hollywood hypocrisy on such matters though, as a Christian I think Morgan’s apology should be accepted. Hopefully, it’s sincere. What Morgan, and the entire entertainment industry, could do to demonstrate a true commitment to tolerance toward gays and others is to back away from what has become predictable “demeaning shock comedy.” It really isn’t funny to use comedy to dehumanize any person or group. Comedy should be about finding out common humanity and laughing at the foibles we all share. Poking gentle fun at topics such as ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation is one thing. Even pointed political commentary is fine. But there is a line that should not be crossed. Mean comedy (particularly suggesting violence against actual individuals or groups) is unfunny comedy. Period.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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