Sunday, January 21, 2007

“Can Hollywood make friends with evangelicals?” asks Brian Lowry in a column for Variety, the show business magazine. A better question might be, “Can evangelicals make friends with Hollywood?”

After years of cursing the darkness about profanity, nudity and violence coming out of what collectively is called “Hollywood” — whether the films are produced there or elsewhere — evangelicals and others who like quality films are beginning to develop and produce their own. Two of the better ones will be released next month.

“Amazing Grace” is the account of William Wilberforce, a courageous member of the British Parliament in the latter 19th century who, more than any person, was responsible for ending the English slave trade. Starring Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce and co-starring Albert Finney as the slave trader John Newton, who converted to Christianity and subsequently wrote the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” this is a film about political and moral heroism with implications for our time, offering all the rationalizations for maintaining the slave trade, including allegations ending it would wreck the British economy and the most outrageous of all, that the slaves, themselves, had allegedly not registered any opposition to the trade.

The producers resist the temptation to lecture. They simply present the historical facts and show what one person can do when he is completely dedicated to a cause that is true and right. When Parliament votes in 1807 to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire, even some of Wilberforce’s fiercest opponents rise to applaud him. Wilberforce responds, “I thank God that I have lived to witness the day in which England is willing to give 20 millions sterling for the abolition of slavery.” On July 26, 1833, Parliament voted to end slavery throughout the British Empire. Wilberforce died three days later.

It is especially fitting that this film is being released during Black History Month. It should resonate with the African-American community as much as with white evangelicals. There is literally something for everyone in this beautifully shot and beautifully performed film.

The other film has the unlikely title, “The Last Sin Eater,” and is based on a novel by Francine Rivers. It is co-produced and directed by Michael Landon Jr. and co-produced and co-written by Brian Bird (his writing credits include the hit CBS series “Touched by an Angel”).

“The Last Sin Eater” tells the story of 10-year-old Cadi Forbes. While attending her grandmother’s funeral in the Appalachian Mountains of the 1850s, she witnesses a mysterious man “absolve” her grandmother of her sins by eating bread and wine at her gravesite. Cadi decides she wants the same redemption from a deep and dark secret and she seeks out the man in order to be forgiven while she is still alive.

The film, from News Corp’s Fox Faith Films, its home entertainment division, is the first of three films to be released this year by Fox Faith.

While all the actors are perfectly cast, Cadi (Liana Liberato) is so cute and so good, you’ll wish she were your daughter. “The Last Sin Eater” is based on a Welsh myth. The Welsh accents, the beautiful surroundings and the compelling story will convince you of theses villagers’ faith in the myth, but what Cadi and her entire community discover as they pursue redemption, is no myth at all, but rather the truest of truth.

The key to getting more films like “Amazing Grace” and “The Last Sin Eater” produced is for people who have avoided movies to begin again to patronize movie theaters. Whatever one thinks of “Hollywood,” profit can trump their mostly liberal politics, social agenda and bias against religion, except when mocking it.

Evangelicals don’t have to “make friends” with Hollywood, but if they want more movies like these, they had better make tracks to the multiplex. I promise, it will be worth the journey.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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