In late December, as we considered the events of the year past, I looked at the top ten Christian news trends of 2004. First among them was the success and impact of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. There was plenty of agreement among analysts who looked at important religious news.
So I was surprised and I suppose dismayed when the Academy Award nominations were released that The Passion was essentially snubbed. It earned three nominations, for cinematography, makeup, and original score. But nothing major.
The Passion had won in the best drama category at the People’s Choice Award. But this was cheapened when it shared top honors with the animated green ogre, Shrek, and the constipated liberal ogre, Michael Moore.
But to be honest, I’m not much of film critic, so I wondered if, perhaps, the movie simply didn’t meet some of the highest standards of the industry. So I asked for the opinion of a long time friend who is one of the most successful evangelical Christian writers and producers in Hollywood (withholding his name because of the politics of Hollywood). He was the producer of one of the most successful television series of the last decade, and has written a number of movies and for many TV programs.
I asked him why he thought The Passion was snubbed by the Academy. He responded:
“A couple of perspectives on the snub.
One, it wasn’t completely snubbed. It received 3 nominations, but it definitely was snubbed in the big four categories (writing, directing, acting, best picture).
Two, it would have had to qualify in the foreign film category anyway because it was in a very foreign language, which makes it more difficult to compete for best picture.
Three, the studios engage in incredible gamesmanship to campaign for these nominations. They lobby, they take out expensive, continuous advertisements in the Hollywood trade papers, and they send out free screeners to all members. Mel Gibson made a point of not going out of his way to lobby the industry, and I respect him for it, but I think it cost him some nods. The only thing he did was send out the screeners, but created no profile for the movie in the trades.
There’s no doubt that much of the Hollywood community wasn’t enamored of the film (except for the studio execs who were blown away by its success), so there was undoubtedly a “protest” non-vote across the board when it came time for nominations, probably fanned by all the anti-Semitism controversy. I personally have met very few people in Hollywood who actually saw the movie. They all just sat back and scratched their heads as the rest of the America turned out in droves.
One thing the film has done in Hollywood is make the money people stand up and take notice. One was Rupert Murdoch at Fox, who called his execs on the carpet and asked them why they passed on “The Passion.” They made the excuse that everybody passed and that the movie was a fluke. Murdoch corrected them by saying the audience is not a fluke, and if you build movies for them, they’ll come, and he said he wants to see Fox put out more faith-based movies. Fox owns Zondervan, so Murdoch suggested an adaptation of “The Purpose Driven Life,” [which is being made].
So, Academy Award or not, Gibson has changed the landscape.”
This friend and former colleague is, by the way, in a small group Bible study with Hugh Hewitt, which should give him some clout here in the blog nation.