Liberty University Film Students Blast 'Trump Prophecy' Movie: 'Will Discredit Our Film Program'
This October, ReelWorks will release a full-length feature film called The Trump Prophecy. The studio has partnered with Liberty University. The movie will tell the story of a retired fireman who swears God told him Donald Trump would be president — in 2011. Many Liberty University film students and graduates were less than thrilled at this news, and they told PJ Media this movie may permanently damage the credibility of their film program.
"I think primarily it will significantly discredit our film program," an anonymous senior film student told PJ Media. "It's not just a video — it's a feature length movie that will have a theatrical release in October." This student recalled thinking the movie was a joke when he first heard about it.
"In December , before we left for Christmas break, we were slated to shoot two short films that had nothing to do with Trump," he recalled. "The first day we were back in January for spring semester, that had changed. Needless to say, we all thought it was a joke at first, but as you know ... it's not."
"Who wants to go to a school that glorifies such a controversial man?" the anonymous film student asked. "Additionally — politics aside — it's a terrible story! The whole year they harp on telling a good story, but I have yet to see why this is a good story and one that needs to be told."
"For the university, by stamping our name on this film, we are telling the world that this is what we believe: radical prophecies about a controversial man make him a Godsend," the film student concluded. While the school is not creating or financing the film, the act of partnering with the film arguably ties the school to the film in the way these students and graduates fear.
Marketing for The Trump Prophecy seems rather explicit in suggesting that not only was the fireman's "word from God" legitimate, but that Trump's election was some kind of divine miracle, guaranteed by the prayers of the faithful.
"My view is that The Trump Prophecy film is poorly conceived, poorly timed, and (based on the promotional materials) executed with a total absence of craft," Doug Stephens IV, a Liberty grad who now attends Harvard Law School, told PJ Media.
The artlessness of the film's promotional materials left a particularly negative impression with Stephens. "When I was an undergraduate at Liberty University, the guiding principle that we hear over and over from the administration and faculty was 'If it's Christian, it should be better,'" he recalled. "And nothing about The Trump Prophecy or its media presence says 'better.'"
Indeed, the promotional materials seem riddled with political, theological, and typographical errors. The Facebook page preaches an odd mix of Christianity and American civil religion, with messages like, "We will be one people, under one God, saluting one American flag" and "Jesus Christ is Lord of the United States of America."
The promotional materials also quote 2 Chronicles 7:14, applying to America a promise God makes to Solomon after the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and Matthew 5:17-20, when Jesus declares that He came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them. Tying these verses to America today is not just a misapplication of scripture — it raises questions as to how Liberty University thinks Jesus' fulfillment of the law relates directly to Donald Trump's election.
Even the Facebook "about" page is riddled with typos, spelling “story” without the “s,” asking questions about a “healthy American econemy,” and discussing “the currnent US administration." The promotional materials cut off letters in the middle of words, creating messages like "Wake up Ame...ica and...ray."
Stephens, the Harvard Law student, admitted that "there is a legitimate space for films to explore our current political sphere from a Christian perspective." However, "a film so steeped in credulous interpretation, borderline heretical theology, and American civil religion as The Trump Prophecy appears to be can only do harm to its audience."
"I see a film palatable only to those few who already agree with its blunt message; to all others it will be nothing more than a laughingstock," Stephens concluded.
Joseph Elijah "Eli" McGowan, a pre-law and cinematic arts Liberty graduate and current freelance director of photography, joked that if they saw the film, "LU's Bible professors would die. They're all cessationists" (Christians who believe that prophecy and miracles ended after the first generation of Christians).
McGowan told PJ Media that Liberty students initially respected Jerry Falwell Jr., seeing him as "an astute businessman" who "avoided the type of political controversy his father courted." Then along came Trump. "We hoped his political engagement would subside after the election, but it only seems to have grown, and at the expense of the university's reputation and now apparently, its theological foundation."
He noted that the cinematic arts department professors and students are "mostly apolitical," and "few would have been excited about this project." Meanwhile, "the theology professors in the school of divinity, following in the footsteps of Jerry Sr., teach the authority of scripture, and warn against those who base their theology around modern displays of supernatural gifts."
"The message of The Trump Prophecy seems to be at odds with what the Cinematic Arts Department teaches about craft, and where its professors' passions lie, and opposed to what the School of Divinity holds up as a spiritual standard," McGowan told PJ Media. "But increasingly, Jerry Jr. seems to see the university as a tool for his political causes rather than an institution worth carefully guarding."
The graduate suggested that Jerry Falwell Jr. is not a charismatic — a believer in modern miracles and prophecy — "but I do believe when the opportunity came along to jump on a script that promoted Trump to increasingly weary evangelicals, he gladly took it."
McGowan recalled the ramifications of Falwell's decision for Liberty graduates in the film industry. "When I worked on an industry feature film in the summer of 2016, people already were making jokes about how I must support the recently nominated candidate Trump because I was from Liberty," he said. "In an industry where you're defined by the last project you worked on, I would hate to also have a film like The Trump Prophecy on my IMDb."
Keisha Preston, a liberal black female student and actress who almost auditioned for the movie, told PJ Media that she has long defended the school, but found herself at a loss after Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. vocally supported Trump, and especially so with this upcoming film.
"Nothing about this film was a good idea," Preston told PJ Media. "Donald Trump is the exact opposite of Christian values. Liberty should be ashamed of their continued support and almost worship of that man, and as a female student of color I'm incredibly offended by Falwell's continued praise of him in spite of the blatantly sexist, racist things that he has said and done, continues to say and do."
Preston may seem an odd fit for Liberty, but she tells a convincing tale of what was a campus truly open to debate and welcoming of those who disagree.
"I really did love my Liberty University experience when I was an on-campus student, and I have nothing but positive things to say about my professors and most of the student body," she told PJ Media. She described herself as "far-left," and knew that she "wouldn't always agree" with other students, but she said, "I was ok with that."
"I was always outspoken about my beliefs and it always resulted in respectful, healthy debates," Preston explained. "I'm a firm believer that you don't necessarily have to agree with people in order to peacefully coexist, and I made the decision to attend that particular school because despite my differing political views, I shared the same passion for Christ."
"But now I feel that what Jerry Falwell supports is incredibly unChristlike, and it reflects badly on the school," Preston added. "I relentlessly defended that school when people badmouthed it, but it has now escalated to a point where as a person of color, I can't keep defending it or making excuses because what Jerry Falwell is standing behind is inexcusable. I've genuinely run out of ways to keep defending Liberty."
Preston said she does "absolutely believe that God CAN send prophecies to people," but she expressed certainty that "God did not MAKE [Donald Trump's election] happen."
Citing the Access Hollywood tape and sexual assault allegations against Trump, Preston remarked, "I just do not see a God who is good and who is just, and who loves women just as much as He loves men, ORDAINING someone like him to run the nation."
Not all critics of The Trump Prophecy were liberal, however. Another anonymous Liberty University film student told PJ Media he firmly supports Trump, but nonetheless thinks the film is a terrible idea.
"I love Trump and I genuinely believe his election was some divine intervention," the student told PJ Media. "But this whole Trump Prophecy thing just makes us Christians look bad ... and to the world, we don't look very good already, unfortunately."
While many film students warned that The Trump Prophecy would be a black mark on Liberty University's record in the film industry, graduate Eli McGowan suggested there can be hope that not every graduate's reputation would be scarred from the film.
"The encouraging news for LU's film students is that there are dedicated professionals in the film industry who know they likely were working on a film they didn't agree with, alongside professors who were equally at odds with its message," McGowan said. "I just wish everyone could know that."
Correction: This article originally stated that Liberty University would release The Trump Prophecy. This is incorrect. In a statement to PJ Media, Liberty Cinematic Arts executive director Stephan Schultze insisted that "Liberty University did not create or finance The Trump Prophecy. Nor has it financed the other four feature films made with the Cinema Arts Department over the past six years since its inception." He also noted that "no student was forced to work on the movie production."
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.