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What “Passion” Effect?

posted by burb

Remember how “The Passion of the Christ” was supposed to be a wet smack in the face for those jaded sybarites of Hollywood/Babylon? How church basements, not focus groups, would be the new proving ground for America’s blockbusters? After the success of Mel Gibson’s thanato-pic, the theory went, the suits on Melrose would finally get it, and they’d greenlight a host of imitators, full of spiritual intensity and religious relevance.

If today’s Oscar nominations are any measure, it’s clear that Hollywood still doesn’t get it. If Mel were handing out the awards instead of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences–call them the “Mels” instead of the Oscars–which of the current crop of nominees would win big? “Brokeback Mountain,” in which two cowboys get it on in the heart of Red America? “Capote,” in which an effete New York writer seduces a murderer to tell him his tale in ghastly detail, and then roots for the dead man walking to hang for the sake of book sales? Spielberg’s ambivalent take on the events of Munich in 1972?

The Oscar nominations, of course, may not be an adequate measure. “The Passion,” after all, didn’t get a nomination either. But if Gibson’s film has a legacy at all, we’re still waiting for it to show up somewhere in Hollywood. Even the one spiritual film of the year, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” neither sought nor got prior approval from the evangelical Christian community that Gibson rallied before going wide with “TPOTC.”

Out of the Closet, in the ‘End of the Spear’

posted by ellen leventry

Actor Chad Allen and I have two things in common: (1) We share the same birthday, and (2) we both like boys. That’s right, the man chosen to play the dual role of evangelical missionary Nate Saint and his son Steve Saint in the film “End of the Spear,” is gay.

Based on Steve Saint’s book of the same name, “End of the Spear” follows five Christian missionaries who make first contact with the Waodani tribe of Ecuador, a society that is thought to be the “most violent that ever existed.” The missionaries are slain by the tribesmen, but some of their widows and children, including young Steve, go to live in the Waodani village and befriend the tribe, including the men who killed the missionaries. Steve later becomes a successful businessman in the U.S., only to return with his wife and son to live, again, with the Waodani. He and the man who killed his father, Mincayani, become close friends–an inspiring story of acceptance and forgiveness.

As for Chad Allen’s association with the film, Christianity Today reports:

Allen told Christianity Today Movies that he didn’t tell “End of the Spear”‘s filmmakers about his sexuality until after they had offered him the job in late 2003. The filmmakers also say they didn’t know about Allen’s lifestyle until after they offered him a contract, but they felt obliged to honor it even though it had not yet been signed.

The explanation is hard to accept; in Hollywood, even a signed contract isn’t a guarantee that you will end up on screen. Actors get replaced all the time. Just ask Stuart Townsend (“Nightstalker”), who was replaced by Viggo Mortensen in “The Lord of the Rings” after just four days of filming. But perhaps, being Christians, the producers felt they answer to a power higher than Hollywood legalese and that the right thing to do was honor the contract.

But I’d say that Every Tribe Entertainment, producers of the movie, need to hire new casting directors or at least find a production assistant to do a search of Chad Allen’s name on IMDB.com. If they would have done that, they’d have learned that the actor has been featured in The Out Traveler magazine and runs a production company with actor Robert Gant from “Queer as Folk.” Just to be clear here, the “out” in Out Traveler doesn’t mean Outward Bound, and “Queer as Folk” is all about folks who are, well… you get the point. In fact, Steve Saint himself said in an email to Christianity Today Movies, “I could not imagine how something like this could slip through a professional screening process.”

Indeed, Allen is probably the least-closeted celebrity this side of Elton John. Very publically outed in 1996 by “The Globe” tabloid while he was still on “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” he has since gone on to pose on the cover of publications such as “The Advocate” and works with charities such as the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which helps elect gay candidates to political office, and a suicide hotline for gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens. In fact, when I first heard that Allen would be starring in an evangelical Christian film my confusion meter went off the scale. But at the same time, would there be a brouhaha if Allen–who was clearly chosen because he was right for the role–was not gay but also not Christian?

Perhaps Allen, who attends All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif., should have been more upfront about his homosexuality before he was offered the role. But, again according to Christianity Today, he did offer to “walk away from this—contract or no contract, even if that means I’m liable for breaking the contract.”

But then, God does work in mysterious ways, according to Steve Saint himself:

[In a dream I was] being chased by a mob of Christians who were angry with me for having desecrated “their story.” The answer to their hostility was easy: Just ask Chad to remove himself. But as quickly as this thought came to me, I found myself standing before God. His look was not as compassionate as I had expected. God said, “Steve, you of all people should know that I love all of my children. With regard to Chad Allen, I went to great lengths to orchestrate an opportunity for him to see what it would be like for him to walk the trail that I marked for him. Why did you mess with my plans for him?”

Saint continues:

Mart [Mart Green, Founder and CEO of Every Tribe Entertainment] has told me that he feels responsible for putting me in a difficult position by hiring Chad…. I don’t think this is Mart’s doing. God planned the death of his own Son. I believe he planned the death of my dad and his four dear friends. Now, I believe God is at work again. I don’t pretend to know what God is going to do with this controversy, but I am confident that he is behind this.

Perhaps God knows that one good story of forgiveness and acceptance should beget another. Or maybe He just knows there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

More Faith at Sundance

posted by kris rasmussen

According to a Friend of a Friend, who just happens to be a big-shot Hollywood producer, “Son of Man,” which I blogged about here yesterday, is not the only movie dealing with issues of spirituality and redemption at this year’s Sundance Festival. In fact, he told me yesterday he is fascinated that the majority of films he has screened this week have wrestled with issues of faith in one way or another–a trend that he hasn’t seen in years past. So I thought I would pass along this Friend of a Friend of Mine’s (seriously, if I told you who he was, you’d be impressed) recommendations of the best of Sundance, which may be coming to an art-house theater near you in the coming months.

“Forgiven”: In a modern day Greek tragedy about our country’s racial and social divide, writer/director/star Paul Fitzgerald plays Peter Miles, a district attorney running for state senator. On the eve of his campaign launch, the governor pardons Ronald Bradley, a man who Peter had put on death row. When pressed by the media, Peter chooses to stick to his story that Ronald is guilty of the cop killing. However, Ronald–suddenly a free man–knows that Peter has for six years possessed information proving Ronald’s innocence and chose to ignore it. Ronald decides that it’s time for a confrontation with Peter, which ends with surprising consequences.

“Stephanie Daley”: Amber Tamblyn (“Joan of Arcadia”) plays a high school student who denies knowing that she was pregnant and that she killed the child after giving birth in a ski resort bathroom. Tilda Swinton (“Chronicles of Narnia”) is the psychologist hired by the prosecutor to evaluate the girl and find the truth, but in the process the doctor must face her own hidden pain over a loss of her own. In the process, both women confront pain, guilt, and grief.

And if my Friend of a Friend’s recommendations aren’t good enough, check out the Journal of Religion and Film’s glowing reviews of several other faith-based movies at Sundance, including “Adam’s Apples,” about a middle-aged neo-Nazi who has been assigned community service at a country church, and “Jewboy,” a story about the son of a Hasidic rabbi and his spiritual journey in the wake of his father’s death.

Closing the Book on ‘Daniel’

posted by burb

Now that NBC’s controversial show “The Book of Daniel” is no more, it brings up the question, again: What does a television show look like that is both viable and Christian? Not all spiritual shows are Christian. One of the most successful shows in the history of the medium, “Touched By an Angel,” was a weekly tearjerker that featured angels. But angels are not exclusively Christian, and anyway God’s messengers were closer to Greek Fates, posted at life’s doorways to create an aura of cosmic control and well-being. The show did well in part because it was TV’s version of comfort food.

“TBAA” did, however, focus on human suffering–how to respond to it and God’s role in it. This elemental spiritual question seems to be good for ratings. CBS’s short-lived hit, “Joan of Arcadia,” portrayed a family dealing with a wheelchair-bound brother, among other crises. Often, God expected Joan (and us) to translate her own pain into compassion for others.

With five people with edgy problems and visits from the Other Side, “The Book of Daniel” seemed to pattern itself after HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” which for a time was the most spiritually challenging show on TV. Not coincidentally, perhaps, it was intent on the question of why we suffer and die. So why didn’t “Daniel” fly? NBC’s mistake, apparently, was putting Aidan Quinn in a dog collar. For every “Seventh Heaven,” there are two or three shows starring priests that misfire, including Dan Akroyd’s brief strut on “Soul Man,” and now “Daniel.”

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