Heavenly Features

Moving into the mainstream, the Christian right tells Hollywood to have a little faith

Along with writers like Dean Batali ( That '70s Show) and Scott Derrickson ( The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and producers like Ralph Winter ( X-Men), who all teach at Act One, Nicolosi is leading the charge from the inside, calling for Christians to learn the craft of filmmaking and work within Hollywood. "To write a movie that's unintelligible outside of the [Christian] community is a weird thing to do," she says, citing films like the Left Behind series. "It just keeps Christians on the fringes of our own culture."

Some veteran Hollywood producers seem to agree. A number of projects in development tread a fine line between proselytizing and mass-market entertainment. The former head of Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment, Howard Baldwin, who has made overtly Christian films ( Joshua) as well as secular cinema (Ray), says his new company Baldwin Entertainment Group is making movies about the "triumph of the human spirit," but the company is also developing The Second Son, based on Charles Sailor's novel about a construction worker who may be the second coming of Christ. Producer Gale Anne Hurd ( The Terminator) is developing Magdalena, a faith-based action-adventure about female warriors descended from Mary Magdalene, and former Paramount president Frank Yablans is producing a biblical epic called The Lamb. As Bob Berney, one of the masterminds of The Passion's release, says, "The actual dollars dictate what happens: If the studios make films that can succeed that really target that audience, I'm sure they will."

Certainly, post-Passion, the Christian demographic is more important than ever before. "The audience and network for attracting and organizing said audience is very much there and the apparatus, from marketers to grassroots teams, has gotten way more developed and sophisticated," says Mark Urman, head of theatrical distribution for THINKFilm, which next Easter plans to release The Big Question, a documentary about the existence of God shot on the set of The Passion of the Christ.

Mane attraction: Skandar Keynes (right) with Aslan
Mane attraction: Skandar Keynes (right) with Aslan

But will this growing industry affect un-Christian entertainment like Brokeback Mountain? Fortunately for Brokeback, the film's reported $13 million budget is small enough that Focus Features need not cater to a massive audience (though they wouldn't mind it). As the film's producer James Schamus recently said at a post-screening Q&A, "If you're a homophobic asshole, I don't care. Just stay away." On the other hand, Disney has a lot more riding on Narnia, with hundreds of millions of dollars on the line as well as a potential franchise for the company's beleaguered film unit (which just reported a $313 million loss).

Still, judging from the dozens of stories published in the mainstream press about the Narnia-Christian connection—The New York Times has run at least six since February—the "secular" establishment seems to be worried. As Nicolosi says, "The idea of religious people acquiring media and artistic expertise is chilling to the secular left. I suppose they imagine that we will be as unfair and propagandistic with cultural power as they have been. But I pray we won't be. We have to answer to God for how we treat people."

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