Hollywood is once again working itself into a lather about prejudice within its ranks. First it was movie star Mel Gibson, claiming that Jews are behind all the wars in history - a comment that, among other reactions, led actor Rob Schneider to declare he would never work with Mr. Gibson. Now it's comedian Michael Richards, who has infuriated the industry by hurling the hated "N-word" at a couple of black hecklers during his stand-up routine at a Los Angeles comedy club.
I find all of this outrage a bit ironic, because Hollywood itself is unequaled when it comes to spreading prejudice. In fact, for almost 50 years Hollywood has been attacking Christianity and its millions of believers in dozens of hit films. Starting in the 1960s, Christians in the movies have been depicted as killjoys, charlatans, buffoons, evildoers and worse.
What we're talking about, of course, is propaganda. In the movies, Christian characters are often placed in opposition to the characters we want to root for. This was the case in the popular film Footloose, where the likable Kevin Bacon (a nice high school kid who just wants to dance) is opposed every step of the way by the town's stern and judgmental pastor. The kid stands for the joyous, decent, life-affirming part of us. The pastor stands for old-fashioned ideas about morality that are suffocating and contemptible.
A similar paradigm occurs in Chocolat, where the passionate and beautiful neo-paganist Vianne is opposed by the cold and legalistic Christian townsfolk who can't abide her free-wheeling ways. Likewise in The Shawshank Redemption, where the innocent and long-suffering convict is stymied by an evil warden who quotes the Bible even as he commits horrendous crimes. In Carrie, the locus of evil is Carrie's sadistic, Bible-thumping mother, who has turned Carrie into a social misfit and locks her in the closet whenever she does something bad.
Hollywood's sneer at Christianity has been amazingly successful. In fact, today's movie audiences hardly blink when a Christian character is portrayed as the enemy of human happiness. Film critic Roger Ebert acknowledged as much in a review of Chocolat. "I enjoyed the movie on its own sweet level," he allowed, "while musing idly on the box-office prospects of a film in which the glowing, life-affirming local Christians prevailed over the glowering, prejudiced, puritan and bitter Druid worshipers." Right, Roger. Maybe in the next life. Or the next Hollywood.
Perhaps the most telling sign of Hollywood's anti-Christian prejudice is its production of the 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ, which portrays Jesus as a self-doubting savior who had sexual relations with Mary Magdalene. Rather than criticize the film for its distortions of the Biblical record, as they did with Mr. Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, critics raved about The Last Temptation. Evidently, any movie that challenges Christian faith is A-OK with Hollywood and most film critics. Any movie that attempts to strengthen a Christian's faith, on the other hand, is automatically fair game.
As a Christian, I'm left to wonder why my Hollywood friends have not stood up and complained about the way my people are treated in the movies. If they had, perhaps their protests about Mr. Gibson and Mr. Richards wouldn't ring so hollow right now.
Bruce Benway works in advertising in New York. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.