UNIVERSAL CITY, California – Nearly crushed under the press and paparazzi on the Hollywood red carpet Friday night, “Jesus” bore each flashbulb and barked question from reporters with the calm reserve of a man accustomed to being under fire from the media.
But when WND asked Diogo Morgado, the man who plays “Jesus” in the movie “Son of God,” about the reports of people whose lives have been impacted by the film, the award-winning actor’s face lit up with child-like glee.
“Oh yeah,” Mordago gushed, “we’ve had a lot of feedback. And the most interesting came from places I never imagined, places like Zimbabwe, like Thailand, Asia, Japan, places I’ve never visited. When we were in Morocco shooting the film, we never imagined in our wildest dreams that places like that would be reached with this message of the love of Jesus Christ.”
“Personal stories as well,” chimed in Darwin Shaw, who played the disciple Peter in the film. “I’ve even had a priest say that after seeing our work, it brought him back to his faith. It’s amazing.”
“Even atheists,” Morgado added, “they’ve said, ‘I’ve never believed in anything in particular, but now I’m rethinking.’ It’s such an overwhelming feeling. I couldn’t imagine a better testimony than the [movie’s] testimony of love and the love of Jesus Christ as a fingerprint of my presence in this world.”
Morgado and Shaw were joined by dozens of other celebrities, directors, producers and Hollywood executives Friday night for the 23rd Annual Movieguide Awards, honoring those films that go against the grain and give audiences quality entertainment with themes of faith, family and freedom.
As WND reported, Morgado was on hand not only to represent “Son of God,” which was nominated for 2014’s best family-audience film, but also to receive the Grace Award, given to the actor or actress who, “through their performance, best exemplify God’s grace and mercy towards us as human beings,” according to the evening’s program guide.
“Son of God” was only one of several faith-filled films and television shows honored at the Movieguide Awards, joined by “God’s Not Dead,” “Heaven Is for Real,” “The Giver,” “Unbroken,” and UP TV’s “Love Finds You in Sugarcreek,” to name a few.
Together with Bible-themed movies like “Noah” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” these films have helped make 2014 what some have called the “Year of the Bible” in Hollywood.
But Movieguide Founder Ted Baehr says with a strong lineup of faith-packed films coming in 2015 and 2016, the “Year of the Bible” may be yet to come.
Revival in Hollywood
Admittedly, Hollywood and the Christian faith haven’t always been on such friendly terms.
At a follow-up breakfast for industry insiders Saturday morning, Baehr explained when his organization began in 1985, there was only one film that year that contained biblical, redemptive content, limited to a tiny scene in which a woman in “The Trip to Bountiful” read her Bible.
But for the last 30 years, Baehr’s Movieguide has been researching and revealing to Hollywood executives that films with positive, redemptive, family and Christian elements are far more successful at the box office than the typical, R-rated fare.
The cold, hard facts of Movieguide’s research has had a major impact on Hollywood’s thinking.
At this year’s Movieguide Gala, Baehr was able to show scenes of value- and faith-affirming content from more than 20 award-nominated films and television programs. In fact, Movieguide’s research reveals that for the second year in a row, a full 60 percent of the movies made by Hollywood in 2014 contain positive, redemptive or Christian elements, up from the one, lonely film in 1985.
Even Marvel comic-book legend Stan Lee, Baehr pointed out, has been working to add Christian content to his films, and Marvel, makers of “The Avengers,” “Captain America” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” was the world’s No. 1 name in movies in 2014.
“There are only six major studios in Hollywood and nine gatekeepers [who winnow down which movies are made each year]. It’s not a big industry. So when you see the gatekeepers and studios changing, you’re seeing God do something spectacular,” Baehr said at the insider’s breakfast. “This is a tidal wave of revival taking place.”
David A.R. White, who plays a pastor in the breakthrough 2014 hit “God’s Not Dead” (which won Movieguide’s top film award, the Epiphany Prize), told WND even social media is revealing how much people are starting to notice faith-filled films.
“One of the things that was so exciting about ‘God’s Not Dead,'” White said, “was when we released the trailer in October , it actually became the No. 1 shared page on Facebook. That was a glimpse that it was going to do well, but we had no idea it would do as well as it did.”
“God’s Not Dead,” in fact, grossed over $60 million at the box office, a stunning amount for a film made with a budget of only $2 million. Like “The Passion of the Christ,” the trailblazing film that stunned the world by grossing over $370 million in 2004, White said 2014’s “God’s Not Dead” and the even more successful “Heaven Is for Real” are opening more and more opportunities for movies with Christian messages to be made in Hollywood.
Brad Hawkins of the 2015 Oscar-nominated film “Boyhood” told WND on the red carpet the success of faith films and redemptive content proves there’s a role for Christianity to converse with and continue influencing Hollywood.
“I think this is the testament right here,” Hawkins said. “The Movieguide Awards pay tribute to and acknowledge all the Christian content and family content that’s out there, and it should be acknowledged. I mean, this is a living, breathing testament that they can coincide.”
“Hollywood did not leave Christians; Christians left Hollywood,” argued Bob Lenz, one of America’s top school assembly speakers, at the Movieguide insider’s breakfast. “But what [Movieguide] has done is bring us back. … God is doing great things in America.”
The ripples of the Baehr’s “revival” in Hollywood, however, flow long past the shores of America.
Movieguide guest Peter Kubota explained “God’s Not Dead” has broken through the barriers and is now being distributed to theaters in his home country of Japan. A faith film on DVD, Kubota told WND, is common enough, but for a Christian movie to be seen in Japan is a near miracle.
“I asked the head of distribution, Synca Creations CEO Soojun Bae, who is not a Christian, why he would show this film in Japan,” Kubota said. “He told me, ‘Because it is more than a Christian movie.’ He said he was so touched by the story he wanted others to see it. God is working in Japan!”
Serena B. Miller, author of the book the TV film “Love Finds You in Sugarcreek” (which won Movieguide’s 2014 top prize for television) was based upon, explained her film – through the work of Mission Pictures International – will soon be seen in an even more stunning market.
“All the different countries they got this God-honoring movie into, it’s making me cry,” Miller said. “That movie is now going to be seen in every country in the Middle East!”
For Baehr, the spread of Christian themes in Hollywood movies has been his goal since founding Movieguide; the impact those movies are now having around the world has been his dream.
“I didn’t come to Christ 40 years ago because Christians were ‘at war with Hollywood’: I came because [the gospel] is good news,” Baehr told friends of Movieguide Saturday. “Somewhere in the 1890s [Christianity] took a turn toward a theology of fear instead of a theology of hope. If we can return to a theology of hope, we can change the world.”