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CLEVELAND — Christianity is getting a bad rap in movies and TV shows, say 32 percent of Republicans, an opinion shared by only 5 percent of Democrats, according to a scientific poll released on Sunday.
The results of the poll from the Barna Group were shared with The Hollywood Reporter at a screening of God’s Not Dead 2 in Cleveland, ahead of the Republican National Convention, which gets underway Monday. GOP Faith, an arm of the party, co-hosted the screening.
The poll asked consumers: “What is your opinion of Hollywood’s treatment of Christianity?”
The 32 percent of Republicans who answered that it generally portrays it “negatively” was more than six times the number of Democrats who answered similarly. This result didn’t surprise Pat Boone, one of the stars of the film.
“Christianity imposes restrictions on behavior, even in movies,” Boone told THR. “Hollywood doesn’t like it when people tell them to stick to moral rules because it makes a lot of money breaking those rules. Orgies, vampires, zombies, debauchery of all forms. Anything goes, and it is liberal Democrats who are making these films. Depravity is profitable.”
Boone offered an example from his own career, saying he was recently offered a role in a TV pilot where he’d play a Christian book publisher as “a heathen, money-grubbing hypocrite.”
“This happens all the time,” said Boone. “They tried to utilize my good image to skewer people of faith. They portray us as dunces.”
Prior to the screening was a worship service, the first time the RNC has held such an event at one of its presidential conventions. Among those who spoke was former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who also appears in God’s Not Dead 2. He told the 300 attendees that a billboard advertising the movie was deemed too “incendiary” to be hung near the convention venue. A pro-atheist sign, though, is here, and so is a giant billboard showing Donald Trump and Ted Cruz kissing, with the text: “Love Trumps Hate. End homophobia.”
“If you’ve never had a reason to watch this film, you’ve got one now,” Huckabee said prior to the start of God’s Not Dead 2, which stars Melissa Joan Hart as a teacher in trouble for citing scripture in the classroom.
“It’s harder today than ever to truly live as a person of faith because you’re subjected to ridicule and scorn and contempt,” he said.
Radio host Michael Medved, who will be broadcasting live from the convention, told THR that he also wasn’t surprised at the poll results because conservatives generally have a more favorable view of Christianity than do liberals.
He added, though, that the industry has improved immensely in its treatment of Christians since around the time he wrote his best-selling book Hollywood Vs. America in 1992.
“I could rattle off lots of titles from the 1980s and 1990s, but it’s not as easy now,” he said, citing The Shawshank Redemption (1994), where the sadistic warden “is emphasized as having a cross on his lapel.” He also cited Monsignor (1982), The Godfather Part III (1990) and Cape Fear (1991), where the antagonist, played by Robert De Niro, has a giant cross tattooed on his back.
On the other hand, he praised Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby for joking about Christianity without attacking it. “Dear Lord baby Jesus,” says the lead character, played by Will Ferrell, “I want to thank you for this wonderful meal, my two beautiful sons, Walker and Texas Ranger, and my red-hot smokin’ wife.”
Said Medved: “It’s not so much that Christians are lampooned all the time — though that certainly happens — it’s that they’re ignored, and they shouldn’t be. In any given week, four times more Americans go to church than go to the movies.”
Hollywood, of course, has embraced Christian films in a boutique fashion since The Passion of the Christ was such a massive success in 2004. The two God’s Not Dead films have earned $82 million; Heaven Is for Real made $91 million in 2014; Tyler Perry has made a string of successful movies aimed at Christians; and the Kendrick brothers have had great success targeting evangelicals with War Room, Courageous, Fireproof and Facing the Giants.
The poll, commissioned by the God’s Not Dead 2 filmmakers, indicated that most moviegoers had mixed feelings about Hollywood’s treatment of Christianity, but 4 percent of Republicans said Christians are portrayed “positively” compared with 18 percent of Democrats.
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