Lately, I've read some pretty scathing reviews of the movie, The End of the Spear a story about a couple of missionaries who travel to a remote part of Ecuador to bring Jesus to those poor unfortunate souls who call themselves the Waodani tribe.
I don't want to give a full review here because I haven't seen the movie. See the excellent reviews by the Venerable Priest and the ACU Optimist's Sarah Carlson, sister of Great Blogs of Fire regular and film critic.Dan. (Sarah Carlson is also the name of a person I worked with one summer at a church camp in Arizona, but she spelled "Sara" without the "h" at the end. This is beside the point.)
These reviews are by people who would consider themselves, and whom I consider Christians, probably even Evangelical. Both of these reviews describe The End of the Spear as being bland, cheesy, without depth, relevance or any effort at a legitimate work of art chronicling the incredible stories of these missionaries. Both Carlson and Priest cite the film as not giving due respect to the lives of the missionaries involved.
While these reviewers are probably right and I'm not going to see this movie based on them, I can't help but identify with Christian artists. Somewhere there is a balance between making entertainment that is accessible to secular audiences without alienating Christian artist, but express the artists' Christian perspective. In the ACU Theatre department we concentrated quite a bit of effort on this problem. The mission statement of the department reflects this problem as does a quote that appears on much of the ACU Theatre recruitment material. I can't find the exact quote but it was something to the effect of this: "Where are the artists who will represent Christ to a desolate and lost world with artistic integrity?" The actual quote was better put, but that is the large question for a big portion of the Christian arts community. When writing a play I am often met with the dilemma of appealing to both secular and Christian artists. My play Arizona Rose, for example has undergone numerous rewrites, some for the simple reason that I was unable to resolve this issue. On the one hand I didn't feel that the issues presented would be relevant to a secular audience, but some of the material might be offensive to many Christians and therefore no one would ever see the play. But, how does an artist remain truthful without offending Christians. I mean really, everything offends some Christians!
There's got to be a balance out there, though. Some movies like Passion of the Christ and The Ten Commandments have been accepted into mainline film circles as quality films despite their religious themes. Two things, though, make this possible. First, mainstream audiences are more likely to accept stories that are direct translations of the Bible. People see it as historical and not in your face evangelising. Second, these two films were made by directors who had already proven themselves in mainstream filmmaking. Another thing that helps Christianity based or religious themed films is if they cause more offense to the Christian community than to the secular one. In these cases many movie goers are apt to jump to see what all the fuss is about.
But the bottom line is that a movie has to be good. And to be good it has to be able to move more people than just your fundamentalist religious zealot, who seem to be content with the dreck they play on TBN. To me this means that I have to continue doing what I'm doing without worrying whether or not someone is going to take offense because my play contains cuss words on the same page as a character professes Christ. That's for that character to hash out and if you take offense to that then you are simply taking offense to real lives being lived. So those who took offense that a priest has an openly gay son and has a very personal relationship with Jesus, himself, see the art for what it is: a representations of someone's reality and not the white-washed cookie cutter brand of Christianity that you want to believe exists, but doesn't.
So, what is the greatest mistake the makers of The End of the Spear made? I can tell you without even seeing the movie that they neglected one very important sector of movie-goer. Christians who care about good art.