Has Hollywood lost touch with Middle America? According to The Christian Film & Television Commission, the city of lights and big dreams does not know how to appeal to the average American. Yet other observers insist believers may be expecting too much from a sector controlled by "non-believers."
"They don't know how to market to the average American who is a churchgoing Christian who believes in God, country, and family," said Dr. Ted Baehr, the ministry’s founder and chairman, in a press release.
"Year in and year out, our statistics show that moviegoers prefer family-friendly movies with positive Christian, wholesome, patriotic, conservative, and traditional moral values," he stated.
However, filmmaker and media consultant Phil Cooke, pointed out that Hollywood does not reflect a significant segment of what most would call "Middle America." He told The Christian Post that many of the studio executives he has met were "politically liberal" – adding that this could also be said about doctors, attorneys, and most university professors.
"Perhaps the biggest issue is 'Why do we expect non-believers to act like believers?' " Cooke questioned. "Why do we get so stressed out when Hollywood doesn't reflect our values, or create movies we like?"
Cooke, co-founder of Cooke Pictures, explained that Christians get "distracted" from the real call because so much time is spent "freaking out over not being able to say a prayer at the start of a high school football game, or upset at Hollywood, the gay community, or others, that we forget that our job is to reach the world, not complain."
Pastor David Wright, CEO of DOersTV, agreed that believers should not expect non-believers to act like believers. According to Wright, non-believers are sinners and sinners sin. "Because Hollywood is controlled by non-believers who love to sin, we cannot expect a sinner to act like a saint," he told CP.
"No Christian is exempt from poisoning their mind with the filth of Hollywood – you can’t play with fire and not get burned," Wright added.
The Numbers, a box office website, found that G-rated features grossed $34.6 million in 2011, whereas R-rated movies averaged about $10.8 million. The typically family-oriented G-rated films also outranked more explicit-natured films in 2009 and 2010.
Dr. Baehr noted that the results reveal that these movies made three or, as in previous years, five times as much money as R-rated films. He noted that PG movies also ranked far better on average.
"Middle America wants to see, rent, and buy entertaining movies with Christian, biblical values that they can show to their whole family," he stated. "They want to see Good triumph over Evil, Justice to prevail, Truth to defeat Falsehood, and Purity to conquer Lust. They reject movies with explicit, graphic sex and violence."
Pastor Wright added, "True 'Christians' crave and desire to watch Christian themed movies not because of what’s in the movies, but mainly because of what’s not in the movie – sin and immorality."
On the other hand, Cooke suggested that the conception that G or PG movies rake in more money than R-rated films is inaccurate. He told CP that when you take out high budget animated blockbusters like "Cars" or "Toy Story" the situation changes significantly.
"We'd all like to believe that people are looking for G-rated entertainment, but the truth is, that's not necessarily the case," Cooke said. "While protecting children is critical, I'm not sure Christians are really called to produce only G-rated movies and TV programming."
He pointed out that much of the Bible, if turned into a movie, would be R-rated if not worse. According to Cooke, God shared "real authentic stories and the Bible doesn’t gloss over real life."
"The culture would respect our message much more if we stopped producing just cheesy, G-rated films and started telling gritty stories about real life," he said.
Research from The Barna Group found that Christians watched almost the exact type of movies and TV programs as non-Christians, Cooke revealed. The original Barna study could not be found, but researchers at the National Study of Youth and Religion discovered that 43 percent of U.S. teens, between ages 13-17, who said their faith was either extremely or very important in shaping their daily lives reported watching mostly R-rated movies and videos.
Regardless, Cooke shared that while there is a place for Christian-themed films that is not why he goes to the movies.
"I go to see powerful, compelling stories about all kinds of subjects," he told CP. "If it has Christian implications like 'Blindside,' or 'The Chronicles of Narnia,' great. But I'm just as thrilled to see a great war movie, historical epic, or sci-fi thriller."
Cooke countered that the question is not what can Hollywood do to become more "in touch" with Middle America, but rather what does "Middle America" need to do to get Hollywood’s attention.
"We sometimes forget that Hollywood is a business. As a result, they pay very little attention to boycotts and critics, but pay a lot of attention to box office receipts," he stated. "Christians could change Hollywood tomorrow if they would simply start showing up at films they care about."
"There are millions of evangelical Christians in America, and if we could mobilize that power to show up at great movies that reflect our values, trust me – Hollywood would notice and respond.”