The Oscars happened last night. And a lot of people said a lot of stuff, whether it was about gender equality or racial incarceration or how everyone is STILL mad that the Lego Movie didn’t get nominated. But, to no one’s surprise, there were no “Christian” movies to be found. While a couple have been nominated over the last few decades, no Christian movie has ever won an Oscar.
A lot of people argue that the Oscars are anti-Christian. That the Christian message isn’t “worldly” enough, so it won’t ever be received well. Sure, that could be part of it someday, but I don’t think that’s our reason at the moment.
Want to know why Christian movies don’t make it to the Oscars?
Because they suck.
Honestly. They’re the worst. I’m a Christian, and even I don’t like them. To Save A Life, God’s Not Dead, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Old Fashioned, Left Behind…they’re all terrible. Adequate at best. The only good one worth mentioning is The Passion of the Christ, which was actually received pretty well by the general public. I guess our country doesn’t hate everything Christian.
So why did The Passion do so much better than the rest? And what are we, Christian artists, doing wrong?
In my photography class last semester, my professor talked about how we interpret art. There’s a big spectrum, and on each side there are two extremes: esoteric and didactic. In esoteric art, there are a million interpretations; the intent of the artist is incredibly vague and the viewer doesn’t know how to follow. In didactic art, the artist takes the message and hits the viewer over the head with it; what is supposed to be subtle becomes a sermon. The goal of the artist is to find the happy medium between the two.
Christian art is almost always didactic. We hit our viewers over the head with our message. We’re afraid to be subtle, because WHAT IF THE AUDIENCE CAN’T TELL IT’S A CHRISTIAN MOVIE? What if the audience doesn’t walk away learning that you save your first kiss for marriage???
Christians don’t deal in questions, we deal with answers. So it’s not shocking that our art reflects that attitude. We’re scared to ask a question and leave it open-ended – we have to wrap it up in a pretty bow. But that’s not what art is intended to do.
In the words of Cesar Chavez; “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
Think of movies that have inspired you, brought tears to your eyes, and even made you a little uncomfortable (but not in a God-when-will-this-movie-end way). I think of Forrest Gump. Selma. Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. Shawshank Redemption. Movies that I left a different person than when I came. Not only good stories, but good art. Movies that asked questions and left it up to me to find the answers.
We resonate with those stories because they challenge us, and they don’t coddle us. They’re not condescending or judging. They’re merely asking us the question – tossing the ball to our court – and it’s up to us to decide what’s next.
So how did The Passion of the Christ break into the Academy and earn several Oscar nominations? What did it do right that we’re missing from Christian films today?
It told its story, and that was all. There was no sermon, there was no moral. It told its story with no subtext and no soapbox. Jesus’ life was enough. By inviting people to come and listen to the story, it won a larger audience than any other Christian movie made. And it didn’t have to “conform” to earn its spot at the top.
So, Christian artists and viewers and consumers: stop using art to preach. Use art to create empathy, connection, and emotion. Movie theaters aren’t churches and cameras aren’t podiums. Art cannot teach what we don’t connect with. And art cannot reason when it is created by emotion.
In the words of my dear friend Forrest Gump:
My mama always said, ‘You’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.’
And it’s time to do just that – leave the crappy art behind us.