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Hollywood’s Inaccurate Portrayal of Religious Practice

posted by Nell Minow

E! Online has a column about Hollywood’s inaccurate portrayal of religious practice. A reader wrote in to complain about the treatment of Mr. Eko, who pretends to be a priest in “Lost.”
According to E!, Tod Tamberg, communications director of the Los Angeles Archdiocese is the man who usually answers Hollywood’s questions about Catholicism ritual, belief, and practice, but no one checked with him about Mr. Eko.
Pretty much every religion offers at least one consultant to keep pertinent films honest. One of them happens to have served as Hebrew coach for an A-list star…But unless Hollywood actively reaches out to such people–and not at the last minute, either–there’s little that religious consultants can do to ensure authenticity.
It was heartening to see the faith-group-produced “Fireproof” do modestly well last weekend, but accurate portrayal of religious practice and sincere faith is rare in Hollywood movies. I was pleased to that in this week’s light teen romantic comedy, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” a character briefly but movingly explains the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam (“healing the world”) as the spiritual purpose of life. It is nice to see something Jewish in a movie that is not bagels, oy vey, or guilt!
For more about the portrayal of religion in the movies, see this bibliography and this religious studies syllabus.

  • jestrfyl

    It is comical what Hollywood does with rituals. I have been known to suggest couples waiting to be married watch some of the great wedding movies – just to see how Hollywood writers wish their weddings had gone. This is another one of those worms, where art reflects life, which in turn tries to include art, which then reflects life, etc… Writers and producers have grand or lurid images of what is often fairly mundane. But then, mundane is rarely film-worthy.

  • Nell Minow

    I once took a “trial techniques” course with one of the greatest trial lawyers in the country and he told us that we needed to be aware of how courtrooms were portrayed on television and in the movies because even if it wasn’t real, it had to become real because that was what juries expected and they would think we didn’t know how to practice law if we didn’t behave like the lawyers they had seen. Art imitates life and as you say, vice versa.
    And despite relying on experts in just about every category from military operations to restaurants, most people know of huge mistakes made in the onscreen portrayal of their own professions. I was sitting next to a doctor friend in a very sad, serious movie once and she started to laugh in a tense scene because the doctor in the movie was peering at a character’s x-ray on the light box — without turning the light on!

  • Greenman

    I was raised in the Mormon (LDS) Church. I always found the depictions of Mormons and church services really weird. In 1947 there was a movie made called “Brigham Young”. The depiction of Mormon pioneers and leaders made them look like wild eyed fanatics and Brigham Young came across more like John Brown than the charming man his contemporaries knew. .I learned early on not to expect much accuracy from Hollywood and to be pleasently surprised when we get it.

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