Daniel Wattenberg, the arts and features editor of the conservative Washington Times, wrote a piece last week chiding Hollywood for being confounded by the ratings success of the History channel’s mini-series The Bible. ”Blockbuster ratings for a compilation of bible stories from a reality TV producer taking his first crack at drama? Can’t be,” Wattenberg writes in the persona of a studio exec. “If there was a market for biblical epics, then Hollywood wouldn’t have long ago abandoned the genre. … Makes no sense.”
No one can blame Wattenberg for taking a poke at Hollywood’s apparent reluctance to capitalize on the huge audience of the faithful. As I myself have joked repeatedly, if The Passion of the Christ had been about anything else, the Book of Acts would already be in the can.
But just for the record, no one in Hollywood is baffled by The Bible’s success. I think The Passion of the Christ blowout took them aback a little, but everyone gets it now: There’s a large audience of religious people who are tired of being mocked and put down by a small cadre of coastal sophisticates, but who will show up for solid, non-pandering faith-based entertainment. They’re not stupid; they’re not changing their minds; they’re not going away.
So why isn’t there more good work for the faithful? The problem is not Hollywood cluelessness, nor is it Hollywood evil. Conservatives tend to over-emphasize both.
Just in the nature of things, you aren’t going to find a lot of stupid people succeeding in the entertainment business. It’s too competitive; the dumb die young. People in movies and TV have to invest tens, sometimes hundreds, of millions of dollars, plus a lot of time and sweat, on the off-chance of touching the hearts of the audience. No one knows what will work and what won’t. And even when you have a good property, there are so many moving parts — including a large number of temperamental and unreliable creative people like myself — that almost anything can go wrong along the way. You have to be sharp and lucky to stay in the game.
The people I meet in Hollywood aren’t bad people either. There are some true creeps, narcissists, and belligerents — that’s in the nature of a business in which huge amounts of money can be made through ego and fakery. But most of the people I’ve met are decent, funny, hard-working, and genuinely eager to entertain with high-quality material.
If conservatives and the religious are excluded, mocked, and even blacklisted in Hollywood — and yes, they are — the problem arises primarily through provincialism. The people who are attracted to the biz tend to be more left-wing and secular than the rest of us. The more they congregate, the more they tend to demonize people unlike themselves. Pretty soon, they become convinced that, while personally flawed, they are nonetheless one of the good guys, and that those who disagree with them are the bad guys. This feeling is encouraged by a small but powerful group of politically minded activists doling out rewards for right thinking and punishments for error. Believe me, I’ve seen these phenomena among conservatives too.
What’s more, no matter what you think you know, no one goes into the arts for money alone. Those who tell you Hollywood is about profit and nothing else either aren’t in the business or are in denial. In the old days, when Hollywood was run by businessmen, money more or less ruled. Now, that old order has been overturned. Creative people including actors, directors, and even writers have a lot more power. They instigate projects and can even push them down the road to completion. Money and profits are still important factors, but there’s a lot of other stuff in the mix. Prestige, awards, glamour, creative satisfaction, the respect of people you respect, pretty girls, whatever.
So… when a bunch of people who trend left and secular are making films to win the praise and respect of other people who trend left and secular — egged on by a handful of powerful executives and reviewers and stars and politicians who will go out of their way to praise them for leftism and punish them for speaking kindly of God, country, Republicans, or conservative values — you get the situation you have now.
The way to change that situation is for conservatives and believers… to complain, yes… but also to get involved — get involved as creators, executives, financiers, reviewers, award-givers, and as a vocal audience demanding what they want.
Do that — and The Bible will just be the beginning.