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Lighting candles in Hollywood: Hollywood execs are slowly realizing that making family-friendly films is in their own best financial interests, and Movieguide annually honors those at the forefront of this trend.

"It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." For the past 22 years, Dr. Ted Baehr and the folks at Movieguide have been proving the wisdom of that proverb in what many had considered a hopeless abyss of darkness: Hollywood. While others have merely cursed the deluge of filth, violence, profanity, and banality that Tinseltown regularly releases on our society, Movieguide and the Christian Film and Television Commission (which Dr. Baehr also heads) have been faithfully lighting candles.

And the light is winning. No, we're not about to claim that the darkness has been vanquished; that manifestly is not the case--yet. But, the darkness has been receding in some very important--and measurable--ways. One measurement--the measurement that counts in Hollywood Babylon--comes in dollar signs. The box office bottom line is succeeding where pleas, condemnations, remonstrations, and demonstrations have failed.

In short, it has become obvious to the movie studio moguls that it is very profitable to produce wholesome, inspiring, uplifting films. On the other hand, it is much less profitable to make films that offend a large segment of America's potential movie-going audience by promoting nudity, crudity, pornography, blasphemy, violence, perversion, and anti-Christian, pro-occult, pro-pagan themes. Here's just one noteworthy statistic for you: in 2006, the average G-rated movie earned more than five times what the average R-rated movie did! And according to Movieguide's analysis, the number of movies with at least some positive Christian, biblical, or moral content has increased overall from 18.3 percent in 1991 to 61.9 percent in 2006--a more than 238 percent increase.

Movieguide provides many other "dollar factor" statistics to show it's good business sense to make good, decent movies. But let's look at another related measurement that should inspire hope: the "limousine factor." I'm referring specifically to Movieguide's annual Faith & Values Awards Gala, which this year took place on February 20 at the beautiful and historic Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. It was a gorgeous, clear evening for the red-carpet entrance when the limos started rolling in to this fashionable venue at the intersection of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard. True, it wasn't the same A-List movie celebrities that would be hitting the red carpet at the much glitzier Academy Awards a few nights later, but it was very significant, nonetheless.

Most of the limo-factor folks arriving for the Movieguide Awards are less recognizable to moviegoers than the mega stars and lesser stars who thronged to the Oscar limelight, but they are in many ways more significant. They are the studio presidents, executives, and producers who decide which movies get made. And in recent years these "deciders" have been paying more and more serious attention to Movieguide and other similar voices that are expressing Middle America's demand for more virtue and excellence in movie entertainment and less vice and ugliness. The presidents of Disney and Warner Brothers, as well as other studio execs, writers, and directors, were on hand to honor those films selected for awards by Movieguide and to receive Movieguide's 2007 "Report to the Entertainment Industry."

I attended this year's Awards Gala for THE NEW AMERICAN, and I asked Dr. Baehr to describe the change in Hollywood from the time he began his ministry in 1985 to today. "I'd have to say it's just tremendous," he said. "When we started Movieguide, there was only one movie that had positive Christian content--The Trip to Bountiful. There were only six movies that we could put on the cover of Movieguide. Today we have many more films with explicit Christian content. There may be five movies opening at theaters in a week, and every week two or three or four of them have got family content."

Hollywood is getting the message. That message was emphasized with stunning effectiveness by the phenomenal success of The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson's 2004 independently produced and distributed blockbuster. More confirmation has poured in with the boffo box office returns on The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Finding Nemo, Ice Age, The Incredibles, Spiderman 2, Shrek, and many, many more.

This year's Movieguide Awards had a bumper crop of contestants for its various categories. Its Top Family Film of the Year went to Charlotte's Web, Paramount Pictures' rendition of the E.B. White children's classic. The award for Top Film for Mature Audiences was taken by The Queen, Helen Mirren's stirring portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II (which also won Mirren an Oscar).

The Grace Award for Inspiring Acting in Film was won by Oscar Isaac for The Nativity Story, while the Grace Award for Inspiring Acting in Television went to Shirley Jones for her portrayal of a widowed farm wife during the Great Depression in Hidden Places.

The Pursuit of Happyness took The Libertas Award for Promoting Positive American Values in Film. This touching film, based on a true story about a down-and-out, homeless father and son who achieve success against incredible odds, also won Will Smith an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The Libertas Award for television went to Hidden Places.

Movieguide's Epiphany Prizes for inspiring movies and TV, sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, include a $50,000 award. This year's film winner was The Nativity Story. ABC-TV's The Ten Commandments (produced with the Walt Disney Company) won the Epiphany Prize for television.

Other films in the running for these awards included Cars, Akeelah and the Bee, Ice-Age: The Meltdown, Facing the Giants, Dreamgirls, Worm Trade Center, Superman Returns, Rocky Balboa, Mission Impossible III, and Joyeux Noel. Many of the winners and contenders not only did well at the box office but also won critical acclaim from secular reviewers not usually known for their friendliness to family-friendly, faith-friendly films. Again, this is more striking evidence of a significant change in the ranks of the media and entertainment elites who have such a profound effect on our popular culture.

Numerous examples could be cited of films from the 2006 crop with explicit Christian themes, characters, and content that likely wouldn't have appeared a few years ago. One of the major surprises of 2006 was Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa, which elicited a chorus of groans when it was announced. Not yet another tawdry sequel! But it stunned audiences and critics alike and has been acclaimed as one of the year's best movies, and on a par with, if not better than, the original Rocky film that won Stallone an Oscar. It has struck a chord with its strong Christian message and compelling plot and character development. Rocky is not just the tough but kind-hearted boxer of his previous movies, but a serious, prayerful Christian. Before the big fight, Rocky prays in the locker room with his friend, Spider Rico, who quotes Zechariah 4:6: "Not by strength, not by might, but by my spirit." He then prays, "We have already claimed victory in our Lord Jesus Christ." After the fight, Rocky points a finger heavenward, giving the glory to God. Not exactly "politically correct" for Hollywood!

Sylvester Stallone has not been shy about confessing that the movie parallels his real life and has noted how he allowed earlier fame and fortune to make a mess of things. In a number of media interviews, he has described how he rediscovered his moral compass in his Christian faith and has expressed his conviction that more people in entertainment need to do likewise, for their own sakes, as well as for the good of society.

To Dr. Tom Snyder, who edits Movieguide, the Stallone-Rocky Balboa story is more confirmation that "a lot of people in Hollywood who share our beliefs--writers, directors, actors, producers--who were in hiding, are coming out of the closets." And, he notes, moral Americans must encourage this trend by exercising good moral stewardship with the dollars they spend on entertainment, while also contacting the studio executives (Movieguide provides the contact information) to encourage or chastise them for their movie offerings.
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Title Annotation:CULTURE WAR
Author:Jasper, William F.
Publication:The New American
Date:Apr 2, 2007
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