A movie entitled Old Fashioned hits theaters this weekend. It is a romantic movie about an old fashioned (go figure) courtship. It is produced in part by the same company that produced God’s Not Dead, although judging by their website they don’t exclusively produce “faith based” films. An interesting aspect of the marketing of this film is that it was released on Feb 13 precisely to serve as the anti-Fifty Shades of Grey, which was released the same day. This is not even a cryptic marketing strategy. It’s quite overt. References to Fifty Shades are a significant part of the trailer which can be viewed at the link above.
A common theme among a certain type of culturally focused conservative, is the admonition that conservatives and Christians should become more involved in the arts and entertainment industry instead of abandoning them entirely to secularist liberals. But how to go about this is the rub.
For the purposes of this article I’ll focus on film, since that is the topic at hand, but much the same conversation can be had about music, fiction, etc. What we have long had and look to get more of, based on relative box office success, is explicitly faith based films that are essentially marketed to, by design or default, faith communities.
So we get releases like God’s Not Dead that, for better or for worse, is essentially an exercise in preaching to the choir. In the same vein, the last several years have brought us the Sherwood Baptist/Alex Kendrick productions such as Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking these films or this strategy per se. My boys and I loved Facing the Giants, and I thought that the overall emotional impact of God’s Not Dead was profound although the movie was not without some significant flaws. There is obviously a niche here that these movies appeal to, and since they are often relatively inexpensive to create, a lot of potential for profit. Plus, Christian families who restrict their movie going to edifying fare, as they should, need movies to go to the theater to see the same as secular families.
That said, the curmudgeonly conservatives I mentioned who grouse about needing more conservatives and Christians in the entertainment industry generally do not have in mind more or less explicitly faith based films for the faith community. A distinction that is often made is that we need films that have broad appeal that happen to be conservative and/or Christian, not conservative or Christian films that appeal to a limited audience, if you understand the difference.
Interestingly and as an aside, there may be a bit of a theological issue at play here, as well. Christians in the Reformed tradition often speak of the need to capture or Christianize the culture. Traditional Catholics, who have an era in history to recall when Christian themes dominated art and literature, often display this same dynamic. As opposed to Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who often see the culture (the world) as implacably hostile and something that Christians need to withdraw from and create their own counter-culture, hence Christian music and Christian films, which is the model that dominates today.
Unfortunately, how to get to films of broad popular appeal that happen to be conservative and/or Christian from the current state of affairs is no small task. You have to develop and nurture talent. You need wealthy patrons who are willing to finance it. And quite frankly, you need Christian talent that won’t be corrupted by Hollywood. For the sake of propriety I won’t name names, but you don’t have to think too hard to come up with examples of purported Christians or at least down home types who entered the entertainment industry with these backgrounds and ended up going down the wrong path, often rather quickly. The examples of people who have remained faithful, such as Kirk Cameron or Mandisa, are often people who migrated to Christian niches once they arrive.
Quite frankly, I’m not sure it can be done absent Divine Intervention. Music and fiction seem more attainable than Hollywood, which is such a cesspool. I can conceive of a fiction writer who remains somewhat insulated from the fiction scene, such as it is. It is hard to conceive of a successful actor who remains insulted from the Hollywood scene. As well, current cultural trends do not bode well for the mass appeal of any Christianity that is not PC neutered.
So this brings us back to the movie Old Fashioned. It clearly seems to fall into the latter category of faith based film marketed to the faith community, but I think the clever tactic of deliberately marketing it as the anti-Fifty Shades potentially opens it up to a market it might not otherwise appeal to.
I detect a bit of Fifty Shades over-saturation culture-wide. Plus, there is a backlash from the culturally conservative right as well as the feminist/PC left. I have always been skeptical of the big box office potential of a movie that is going to be so exclusively focused on the female audience. The audience seems likely to be primarily women who go with other women or women who drag their unfortunate boyfriend or husband along kicking and screaming. I can’t imagine a guy who would go see it of his own accord. Judging by the comments already on Internet Movie Database, it is getting hammered by reviewers.
Given this dynamic, there is a potential for Old Fashioned to reach an audience it might not otherwise reach. I am very curious to see the box office numbers for how both films did over the weekend. Let’s hope, for the sake of our collective cultural soul, that Old Fashioned over performs and Fifty Shades under performs.