From Twilight to The Shawhank Redemption, from Woody Allen to Mel Gibson, Los Angeles magazine’s latest Breakfast Conversation centered on the role of religion in film and popular culture and covered a lot of ground. The magazine’s editor-in-chief Mary Melton spoke with producer/writer/actor Mike White (Enlightened, Freaks and Geeks), USC Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society Marty Kaplan, and Pepperdine University’s Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture director Craig Detweiler about what defines religious storytelling and why TV and film characters don’t often reflect the kind of church-going spirituality a large number of Americans say they practice. (And no, it’s not because “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity” as Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights president William Donohue has argued, says Kaplan.) The discussion touched on the history of religiously irreverent entertainment (“I don’t know when it hasn’t been around,” said Detweiler) and how nuanced portrayals of alternative faiths, like that of Amy Jellicoe on Enlightened, can be so, well, enlightening. The gathered crowd at Kate Mantilini included included Jewish Journal editor Rob Eshman, ArcLight Cinemas’ Gretchen McCourt, Paulist Productions president Reverend Eric Andrews, and Reverend (and The Amazing Race alum) Mel White (he’s also Mike’s dad). So what—in addition to increasing audience demand for films like The Blind Side—makes projects that raise theological and ethical issues so appealing to filmmakers? White summed it up like this: “We all are moral beings.”
Photograph by Jim Donnelly.