LOS ANGELES – As independent, faith-based films have found a stronger foothold in Hollywood, industry veterans say they have noticed a shift in the way clergy are portrayed in movies.
“It has been a watershed year," producer Mark Joseph told FOX411. "I’ve never so many positive portrayals of clergymen.”
2014 films have featured a loving preacher dad in “Heaven is for Real,” an admirable reverend in “God’s Not Dead,” and an upstanding priest in “Persecuted,” to name a few.
“As the Christian genre, independent filmmaking and distribution grows, we’re finally seeing more diversity," screenwriter Brian Godawa said.
Former United States Senator and actor Fred Thompson, who played the priest in "Persecuted,” said that for too long, Hollywood has been lazy in its approach to portraying Christian leaders.
“We live in an age of cynicism and Hollywood reflects that view of what is going on in the world. They try to give people what they perceive to be what audiences want. It is just easier to do – venerable institutions are not what we thought them to be,” he said. “A compelling story dealing with the nuances of the human spirit is much more challenging for the writer. The image of the clergy can’t be expected to fare well in such an environment.”
However, the anti-clergy tone that has seemingly dominated Hollywood over the past few decades wasn’t always the norm. According to Joseph, the 1960 Academy Award-winning film “Elmer Gantry” – filled with sexual indiscretions and righteous hypocrisy – ushered in a long-lasting wave of anti-Christian leader plotlines. Before that, inspirational illustrations as evidenced in the likes of 1945’s “God is My Co-Pilot” and Hitchcock’s heroic cleric in the 1953 thriller “I Confess” was the standard.
“As the cultural values of those who made movies changed from the 1960s onward, and became more liberal, fewer and fewer people involved in entertainment were themselves religious,” Godawa added. “So they became increasingly distant from any experience of good clerical figures in their lives.”
So while Christian filmmakers hope the recent box office successes of faith-themed titles like “Fireproof” and “God’s Not Dead” inspire more positive images of clergy, they say it’s primarily up to religious writers to step up to the plate.
“Christian values have received a battering in the past because very few screenwriters are devout,” Joseph said. “When religious people don’t show up in Hollywood as writers, their values aren’t reflected.”
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