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Reforming Hollywood: How American Protestants Fought for Freedom at the Movies
William D. Romanowski
Oxford University Press, 2012
336 pp., $36.95
Blind-Sided at the Box Office
Last summer, the Southern Baptist Convention's retail division, Lifeway Christian Resources, made headline news when it pulled copies of the 2009 movie The Blind Side from its shelves and online store in response to belated concerns about the film's wayward ways. Though The Blind Side has been widely regarded as family- and faith-friendly inspirational fare, it contains some salty language, including an occasional expletive, the use of God's name in vain, and a racial slur—albeit one employed in order to depict the context of the film's most sympathetic character, a teenaged black boy from the Memphis housing projects. No matter—a pastor from Florida submitted a resolution for banning The Blind Side to the SBC in the weeks before the 2012 annual meeting, and Lifeway decided to pull the film from its shelves.
What's odd about this turn of events is that until the Lifeway decision, The Blind Side had made religion news as a rare case of Hollywood doing right by Christianity. The film is based on journalist Michael Lewis' terrific book about a wealthy white evangelical family who took in a troubled and impoverished black teenager and helped him create a new life for himself and a successful career in the National Football League—Michael Oher, the boy from Memphis, is now a veteran offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. The film, made for just under $30 million by the Christian director John Lee Hancock, was a surprise hit in the early winter of 2009 thanks in part to Hancock's light touch in representing faith convictions and in part to the efforts of Grace Hill Media, Hollywood's go-to marketing firm for pitching films to evangelicals. With the help of Grace Hill's ability to get the word out to churchgoers, The Blind Side made over $250 million during a 28-week theater run and even unseated one of the Twlight sequels from the top of the box office.
What gives? Is The Blind Side for and about Christians, or is it unfit for Christian consumption? Lifeway, ...