Should We Label Hollywood as “Evil”?

Every year, thousands of children swarm Hollywood in search of fame, but what they often find under the surface is a deep and disturbing underbelly of manipulation and abuse.” So reads part of the description of An Open Secret, a new documentary set to premiere at DOC NY this year. The film is helmed by Amy Berg, the Oscar-nominated director of another documentary that deals with the theme of sexual abuse.

An Open Secret is “a sobering look at the lives of children who were exploited and assaulted by some of Hollywood’s most powerful players.” The film’s title suggests that these secret crimes weren’t so much secret as they were ignored or glossed over. If the content of the movie is true, it’s a scathing indictment of the culture in which much of moviemaking takes place.

It reminds me of my blog post Hollywood’s Secret Rape Culture, in which I talk about the many ways actors—especially women—are abused and mistreated in the process of filming scenes that require nudity and/or sex acts. This rape culture is simultaneously well known (by those in the industry) and relatively unknown (by audiences).

On top of all that, consider the Sex Scenes = Porn blog series we’re currently going through. We can label such scenes “professional” all we want, but just because a movie isn’t slapped with an NC-17 rating, it doesn’t mean all is calm on the Western front of Mr. Rogers’ friendly little neighborhood. (Sorry for the mixed metaphors.)

With all of these considerations, should we write off Hollywood as a lost cause? Is it a subculture so steeped in depravity that it’s beyond salvaging? Should we just slap Tinseltown with a label marked “Evil” and be done with it?

I could be wrong, but I believe the answer is no. Why? Well, such a label is, I think, overly simplistic. In all my critiques of the industry, I don’t want to paint Hollywood with such a broad brush as to condemn everything that plays in a local theater.

It’s way too easy to condemn Hollywood as a whole, ignoring the fact that the institution itself is made up of different studios, producers, directors, actors, and screenwriters who are varied in their approach to controversial subjects, and some of those approaches are not just permissible but laudable. Jeffrey Overstreet recently listed several such laudable examples:

Look at the films of Scott Derrickson, which have earned high praise in the horror genre, but which affirm Christian beliefs and focus on the reality of spiritual warfare and the overwhelming power of Christ. I’m a big fan of Sinister and I admired both The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us From Evil

Look at the favorable reviews for films based on the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other great Christian artists. . . .

Look at the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire. Classics like Babette’s Feast and, going back farther, Ordet. Look at how many of these films reflect Christianity and are legendary in film history.

Look at the not-so-blatantly religious films coming from Pixar, films that celebrate Christian values. Some of Pixar’s most prominent directors and writers have publicly professed Christian faith.

And that’s only a sampling of what Overstreet’s article addresses.

Another problem with labeling Hollywood as evil is that it can lead to (or spring from) a misguided notion about the source of true evil. Even when the Bible condemns worldliness, it points us back to the source of that worldliness: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). In other words, worldliness is just a term for what happens when the evils of men spring out and into culture.

This evil is, at root, a heart problem. We can spend most of our efforts keeping evil at bay by retreating from a secular culture. Our problem, though, is not primarily outward, but inward. Labeling Hollywood as unredeemable and ignoring movies altogether can indicate a dangerous misunderstanding of the nature (and treatment) of evil.

Speaking of the true source of corruption, I guess you could say there is a sense in which we can—and should—say that Hollywood is evil. If we’re trying to make a theological point about the universal sinfulness of man, than such a label would be appropriate. Even Jesus called His disciples evil—not scathingly or in rebuke, but in a simple, matter-of-fact way (see Luke 11:13). Hollywood is filled with sinful people, but that would be true even if Hollywood generated only G-rated fare that didn’t offend anyone’s sensibilities.

So if we can’t categorically condemn everything Hollywood produces, how are we as a church supposed to respond? I’m glad you asked. (Well, I’m glad I asked for you, at least.) In his book Worldly Amusements, Wayne A. Wilson lists four possible responses:

1.     Avoidance (don’t watch movies at all)
2.     Silence (don’t talk about movies; just let everyone do what they feel is right)
3.     Engagement (immerse yourself in culture in order to be relevant)
4.     High Standards (use wisdom and discernment; abhor what is evil and cling to what is good)

It’s obvious he is a proponent of the fourth view. As he explains, there are at least four benefits to this response:

1.     It avoids legalism by seeking to apply Scripture without adding to or detracting from it
2.     It gives art its due, acknowledging its power for good and evil
3.     It honors the performers by enabling us to obey Christ’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves (as we’ve talked about, among other places, here and here and here and here)
4.     It honors the Word of God by acknowledging that there are applicable principles we should adhere to

True, the High Standards position is much harder to maintain than mere avoidance, or absolute silence, or full immersion. But it is the most Christ-like response. By the Spirit of Christ, let us exercise true discernment by engaging Hollywood with both the wisdom of serpents and the innocence of doves (Matt. 10:16).

photo credit (cropped and inverted): shdowchsr via photopin cc