News Articles

Hollywood’s low view of faith, morality again seen at the Oscars, observers say

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Year by year at the Academy Awards, the evidence mounts that Hollywood is aiming its fare “at our baser instincts,” movie reviewer Phil Boatwright observed after the Oscars were awarded March 26 in Hollywood.

Boatwright, a Southern Baptist layman in Thousand Oaks, Calif., isn’t a voice in the wilderness.

A headline in The New York Times March 26, “2000 Oscars: The U.S. Needs More Prozac,” topped writer Bruce Kluger’s lament over this year’s nominations:

“Judging from the contents of these films, the country appears to be a mess.”

Boatwright, who reviews films for Baptist Press and the Dove Foundation, among others, observed: “Since the Motion Picture Code was replaced in the mid-’60s by the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system, moviemakers have used the freedoms allotted by the MPAA not to improve artistic standards, but to bombard society with more violence, exploitive sex, profanity and a complete disregard for Christian/Judeo principles. They aim their product at our baser instincts.”

The Motion Picture Code, which was established in the mid-1930s, “set parameters for filmmakers,” prompting them “to tell their stories without crudity or exploitation,” Boatwright recounted, noting that the code’s adoption had been fueled by numerous “raunchy and often decadent silent films.”

Subsequently: “Film pioneers, governed by this standard, tended to recount positive tales, relying on storytelling to engage rather than exploitation,” Boatwright said. “Movies such as ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ and ‘How Green Was My Valley’ showcased the best in mankind and gave kids something to aspire to. Directors like Frank Capra and John Ford showed us not just what we are, but what we could become.

“Certainly, there were as many corny and poorly written efforts during Hollywood’s ‘golden era’ as there are today,” Boatwright acknowledged, “but at that stage of the industry’s development, films were considered well made largely due to their optimistic theme, where man bettered himself by film’s end (‘The Best Years of Our Lives,’ ‘Gentleman’s Agreement,’ ‘A Man For All Seasons’) and biblical teachings (‘Ben Hur,’ ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘The Next Voice You Hear’) were as common to movie making as any other subject.”

No longer, said Boatwright.

“Has the MPAA rating system changed what we see for the better?” he asked. “After studying the different genres and movie trends of past decades, the honest answer is no — not morally, psychologically or artistically.”

Of the film industry’s regard for matters of faith in particular, Boatwright said: “Although Hollywood has never been an exalter of biblical principles, it would appear that in the last 25 years, the film industry has been determined to belittle, put down, ridicule and negate the teachings of the Bible.”

A key example:

“The Bible instructs us to reverence God,” Boatwright said. “Yet nearly every actor of this era has misused God’s name or that of our Savior’s on the silver screen. If words are the summation of the heart’s thoughts, then surely people who constantly misuse God’s name are contemptuous of his nature.”

And then there is this year’s Best Picture, “American Beauty,” which Boatwright described as “the most depressing film I have seen in quite some time.”

The lead characters in this Hollywood portrait of suburban life “are a caustic bunch who would give Tennessee Williams the heebie-jeebies,” Boatwright commented. “Hubby hates his job, wife and daughter belittle him, and he harbors a self-hate. The wife is a realtor attempting to find happiness through possessions and power. Their daughter is, well, like every other movie teenager: smart beyond her years, yet as cynical and dark as Wednesday Addams of ‘The Addams Family’ movie.”

The film’s “lack of spirituality and depictions of despicable behavior” could be a significant setback to “those attempting to develop a spiritual walk,” Boatwright warned.

In another of this year’s top films, “The Cider House Rules,” Boatwright said Christians “are portrayed as unfeeling holier-than-thous, while a lawbreaking abortionist doctor is depicted as, down deep, sensitive and judicious.”

In his New York Times opinion piece March 26, meanwhile, writer Bruce Kluger drew several conclusions about “what that little man of gold might be saying about America,” judging from all the films nominated this year for various Academy Awards.

Kluger is a writer, TV correspondent, actor and dad whose “In the Trenches” columns appear in the “grownups” section of Nickelodeon kids’ Internet site, www.nickjr.com. His New York Times article can be viewed on the Internet at www.nytimes.com/library/review/032600oscars-review.html.

According to Kluger’s cultural assessment of the past year’s Hollywood fare:

— “Americans live for head games.”

Movies that “demonstrate the national obsession with nuts” received 17 Oscar nominations, Kluger wrote, citing such offerings as “The Sixth Sense,” “The Matrix” and “Being John Malkovich.”

— “There’s no family like a dysfunctional family.”

A dozen nominations went to films about “fractured families,” by Kluger’s count, such as “American Beauty,” “Tumbleweeds” and “Magnolia.”

“It was the kind of year that made the household friction in ‘Ordinary People’ (1980) seem like a day at the Cleavers,” Kluger wrote.

— “Where is love?”

Only one of this year’s nominees in various categories, “End of the Affair,” is “a bona fide love story, and an illicit one at that,” Kluger wrote.

— “When in doubt, lie.”

“As much as it is said that truth and justice are the American way, this year’s Oscar contenders confirm just the opposite — that the country is fascinated by secrets and lies,” Kluger wrote, noting that 14 Oscar nominations “went to films that flaunt duplicity, whether corporate (‘The Insider’), sexual (‘Boys Don’t Cry’) or political (‘Election’). Matt Damon, meanwhile, embodies all that is fraudulent about humanity in the nerve-racking thriller ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley.'”

— “Heroism is dead.”

“Historically, the academy has exalted heroes — from Mr. Smith to Norma Rae to Babe the Pig,” Kluger said, observing that “the only candidates that come close to qualifying as role models [this year] include an ape man (‘Tarzan’), a plastic cowboy (‘Toy Story 2’), a talking mouse (‘Stuart Little’) and a Cuban fisherman in the animated short version of Hemingway’s ‘Old Man and the Sea.'”

— “The slammer is the place to be.”

“Is this such a bad thing?” Kluger quipped. “Not really — but as any kid or studio marketing manager knows, prison flicks produce some pretty lousy action toys.”

— “Taking responsibility for its behavior isn’t really America’s strong suit.”

“Clearly, this has been the nation’s least attractive quality in recent years,” Kluger wrote, adding, “… if ever Americans are feeling overwhelmed by the way their bad manners appear to the rest of the world, they can comfortably heed the advice of the Academy Award-nominated song from the ‘South Park’ movie: ‘Blame Canada.'”