This morning Darren Doane, the director of Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, posted the following tweet:
What’s happening for Doane and Cameron’s movie at Rotten Tomatoes is similar to what you’ll find if you look at many of the recently released so-called faith-based films: extremely low critic ratings and unreasonably high audience ratings. Let’s look at some of the results of other Christian-made films:
What exactly is going on?
Is there a secular critic bias out there that says if a film is released with a hint of “faith-based”, it will be treated differently than a movie of a different genre?
Even if the movie is brilliant, it will not get a fair shake?
Is there a faith-based audience bias out there that says if a film is released with a hint of “faith-based”, the quality of the movie will be given a free pass as long as it portrays Christians in a good light, talks positively about Jesus, or has Scripture passages used in a semi-appropriate fashion?
Even if the movie is terrible, it will be received positively if it meets the criteria?
Personally, I think there is a bit of both going on. Yes, there are secular critics who will not approach a Christian film without adding the caveat, “…for a Christian film”. But one hopes that a critic will be able to separate that particular bias from what they experience on the screen and write a candid review that explores the positives and the negatives of the film.
And yes, there are plenty of Christians who will gladly support anything as long as what they are seeing on the screen reinforces or promotes what they already believe. Thus you have hundreds of positive reviews on the Left Behind website from ordinary people who make the movie sound like the best film ever made, rather than the enormous cinematic shamble that it was.
But critic bias is by far the less alarming and less surprising issue of the two on the table. I’m much more disturbed by the way so many Christians will line up around the block to embrace any movie that builds up their worldview – regardless of the film’s quality. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that many Christians have become so needy to see their points of view on the screen that they’ve become blind to what makes for a quality film at all. At least that seems to be the case, considering the way we rally behind so many poor filmmaking efforts, treating them like the best thing since the last poor filmmaking effort.
Yep. Our expectations have grown depressingly low.
There has been a two-pronged effect on Christian-made films that I see as a direct result of the low expectations of the target audience.
First, the low expectations force the filmmakers to sacrifice good storytelling on the alter of hitting all the right beats to please the Christian audience. I’ve discussed this point before, in my article What’s Wrong With Christian Filmmaking, so I will move on to the second point.
Second, the low expectations damage our potential to be taken seriously by people outside the church, as they see us vehemently defending films that are so badly produced.
Our films are not taken seriously.
What did George Costanza say about Christian rock on Seinfeld? “I like Christian rock. It’s very positive. It’s not like those real musicians who think they’re so cool and hip.”
If George were still around today, he might also say, “I like Christian films. They’re positive. They’re not like those real films…”
We did it to ourselves with a Christian music industry supported exclusively by the Christian sub-culture, we did it to ourselves with a Christian publishing industry supported exclusively by the Christian sub-culture, and now we’re trying to do it to ourselves again by building a Christian filmmaking industry supported exclusively by the Christian sub-culture.
And it’s a huge mistake.
This “circle the wagons” mentality does little to help with building the kingdom of God, but does much for building up walls between the church and the greater culture.
In his Salon article entitled, Christian right’s vile PR sham: why their bizarre films are backfiring on them, writer Edwin Lyngar says some pretty damning things about what is happening in American culture as a result of this past year’s Christian filmmaking efforts. Lyngar says:
The people who create and consume Christian film are neither mature nor reflective. They are at their core superstitious, afraid and tribal. They self-identify overwhelmingly Republican and shout about “moochers” while vilifying the poor. They violate the teachings and very essence of their own “savior” while deriving almost sexual pleasure from the fictional suffering of atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, Hindus, and even liberal Christians. To top it all off, the stories they tell themselves are borderline psychotic.
Is this what it means to be salt and light to a dying world, that the followers of Christ come off as ‘neither mature nor reflective’? That we’re seen as ‘superstitious, afraid and tribal’? That our stories are viewed as ‘borderine psychotic’? I realize that this is just one man’s opinion, but I don’t think we Christians can afford to dismiss opinions like his, because I don’t believe that his opinion is so uncommon.
And it all comes back to the depressingly low expectations that we have for the art being produced by us, for us, and in our name.
The irony is that Christians would be the first to stand up and say, “High expectations breed high results, and low expectations breed low results!” with regards to most things in life:
Education? Aren’t Christians known for homeschooling our kids because we have high expectations for their education?
Employment? Aren’t Christian employers known for holding employees to higher standards?
Ministry? Aren’t we disappointed when people in positions of ministerial authority don’t live up to our high expectations?
And yet when it comes to filmmaking - as evidenced by the overwhelming support given to many of the not-so-great faith-based films that were released this past year - our expectation for quality Christian art is shockingly low.
And it just doesn’t make sense.
Meanwhile, not only was the director of Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas out this morning stumping on the social media platforms for people to speak out at RT, but the man himself, Kirk Cameron, posted this on his Facebook page:
I can appreciate the grass roots campaigning of Cameron and Doane, and I haven’t had the chance to see Saving Christmas yet to speak to the movie one way or the other, but what about this…
What if – instead of just flocking to a film’s Rotten Tomato page and putting up happy reviews to support the filmmakers - we showed that we have the capability to use our higher order thinking skills, and write critically honest reviews that discuss both the good and the bad about the film?
What if - instead of just flocking to the Facebook pages of filmmakers who believe the way we believe and gushing about how much we love their movies, or flaming about how much we disliked the movies, as the case may be – we do the same thing and give them constructive feedback so that they can improve the next time out?
What if Christians do the really heavy lifting and raise the bar on our expectations for films made in our name, helping our filmmakers by expecting them to make great movies that even the secular critics would have a hard time dismissing?
Folks, unless we start to adjust our expectations, unless we break the model set for us by the music and publishing industry, unless we start doing our best to pursue excellence in the films we are allowing to be produced in our name, we might very well find Mr. Lyngar’s heartbreaking prophecy coming true.
The fundamentalist community will continue to shrink until they start telling themselves—and those they hope to win over—more honest and humane stories… Christian film with its cardboard characters and heavy-handed messages will only drive an increasingly diverse and media-savvy populace away. Failing a profound change of heart, the best this community can hope for are films so bad no one will bother to watch them.