Category: Books

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ on Hulu: What Should Catholics Think?

Hulu-Handmaids-Tale-Offred-Elisabeth-Moss-FFBOn Wednesday, April 26, Hulu premieres a 10-episode adaptation of Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Many secular critics are in a lather, fretting that the series somehow represents the near future. The story is set in an alternate present (Uber is even mentioned) when environmental pollution has devastated female fertility, and a war has caused Gilead, an oppressive theocratic dictatorship, to break off from the United States.

Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) stars as Offred, who is captured into this regime because she was proven to be fertile. Her husband was shot, and her daughter taken. Now she’s given over to a wealthy man and his barren wife as a “handmaid” — inspired by the story of Leah and Rachel in the Book of Genesis. Offred and her wealthy master (Joseph Fiennes) go through highly ritualized sex in hopes of producing offspring (which obviously does not please the wife, played by Yvonne Strahovski).

While the regime has Old Testament overtones (but no New Testament ones), it is emphatically not Catholic. True to Atwood’s novel — in which Quakers, Jews and Catholics are enemies of Gilead — a Catholic priest is seen hung in the first episode, along with others, including a gay man.

At a press event last summer, I asked executive producer Bruce Miller how faith was handled in the show. Here’s the exchange:

QUESTION: In the book Gilead is run under the auspices of a very specific form of biblical fundamentalism, and Quakers, Jews, Catholics are not welcome, not considered our friends at all. So, how do you deal with the religious aspects in the series?

BRUCE MILLER: Well, interestingly, in the book they’re dealt with in a very specific way. I mean, I don’t think they ever go to church once in the book. You know, it’s a society that’s based kind of in a perversion misreading of Old Testament laws and codes, but I don’t think — even Margaret Atwood said it isn’t — they aren’t Christians, the people who are running Gilead. You know, I think that we deal with it the same way they deal with it in the book. You know, in the pilot, in the next few episodes, they’re tearing churches down that are not — that are anything besides their sect. I think there are a lot of parallels between the book and certainly the TV show and life in Puritan times. And I would say that we use that as — or the writing staff has been using that as a big parallel. You know, this country gets a reputation for being a place where people came from religious freedom. The Puritans who came liked their religious freedom, but not anybody else’s. So, certainly, there were no other churches besides the Puritan church. And, so, the way that they dealt with outsiders is, I think, slightly nicer or slightly meaner than the people in Gilead. I think they branded Quakers on the forehead — didn’t they — with Qs and stuff like that, and sent them out of the state. So, I think we’re trying to harken back to that origin story for the — that Margaret used as the beginning for this book.

So, if any religious group gets a black eye in this, one supposes it’s the Puritans, and they’re not really around to complain.

Seems to me that the world has plenty of horrors these days perpetuated against women and girls about which high-profile Hulu series could be made — if one had the courage to risk upsetting political correctness.

Perhaps, it’s much easier to panic at imagined dangers than to portray real ones.

As Megan McArdle of Bloomberg.com sagely observes:

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is becoming less plausible a future with each passing year, no matter how hard feminists insist that there is only a brief and slippery slope between overturning Roe v. Wade and forcing women into state-sanctioned breeding programs.

With sexual content, violence and language, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is emphatically NOT for children, and if parents want to let high-schoolers watch it, I’d advise watching with them. It offers few new lessons beyond the power of mother love and the resilience of the human spirit — and you can get that without all the post-apocalyptic trappings and political messages.

Just look at Mary, the true handmaid of the Lord.

virgin_mary

Image: Courtesy Hulu; Wikimedia Commons

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Struggling to Explain Easter to Small Children?

Baby-crucifixLent is nearly over and we are in the Holiest Week of the Year, but I have to admit that I’m still struggling to properly prepare my preschool-age children for Easter, which we will celebrate this Sunday.

For elementary-school kids, there are many great traditions that may begin with “giving something up” for Lent to honor the sacrifice of Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert, and may end with making “Resurrection Eggs” to help visualize the story of Jesus dying for our sins and rising on Easter Sunday.

But if your children are not quite old enough to understand the concepts of sacrifice or death, explaining Easter can feel somewhat challenging.

However, letting my kids believe that Easter is just about chocolate and a bunny has not been sitting right with me. As parents, we’re often averse to talking about death with our little ones. We feel it’s too heavy for them to understand. We’re worried about scaring them. But as I contemplated this challenge, I realized that the story of Easter is actually a wonderful way to introduce my kids to the concept of death and to teach them about everlasting life as well. In fact, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, there is nothing for them to fear.

Thankfully, I found several books on Amazon to help convey the story of Easter to young children. Some of them are Prime eligible, so they’ll arrive in just a couple days. Some of them are available for immediate download:

Lily’s Easter Party: The Story of the Resurrection Eggs

The Week That Led To Easter

Benjamin’s Box: The Story of the Resurrection Eggs

The Berenstain Bears and the Easter Story

The Resurrection

God Gave Us Easter

This evening, we’re going to read one of the downloadable titles. Every night this week, we’ll make an Easter book part of our bedtime routine.

When we go to Mass this Sunday, they will no doubt have a deeper understanding of why we’re celebrating—and that will make the Easter baskets, the egg hunts and the chocolate treats all the more special.

Korbi is a former full-time TV blogger, writing for sites such as E! Online and Yahoo!. She is now a full-time mom of twin boys. In her free time, she moonlights as a Marriage, Family & Individual Therapist.

Images: Courtesy Laura Zambrana

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Christopher Awards: ‘Hacksaw Ridge,’ ‘This Is Us,’ Dolly Parton and More …

Hacksaw-Ridge-This-Is-Us-ChristophersHollywood can often seem hostile to family values, but The Christopher Awards intend to honor good where it can be found, whether in movies, television or books.

The Christopher Awards were created in 1949 to celebrate writers, producers, directors, authors and illustrators whose work “affirms the highest values of the human spirit.”

Today, March 28, The Christophers — founded by Maryknoll priest Father James Keller in 1945 — released the 68th Annual Christopher Award winners, to be presented in New York City on May 16.

Said director of communications Tony Rossi:

“The powerful love of family is a thread in so many of our winning projects this year, be it family we’re related to by blood or those whose kindness and selflessness lead us to form an emotional and spiritual connection with them. These are the kinds of bonds that can change people’s lives and change the world.”

The movie winners are “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hidden Figures,” “The Hollars” and “Queen of Katwe” (or own Father David Guffey reviewed that one). Said “Hidden Figures” director Ted Melfi (a previous winner for “St. Vincent” in 2014):

“Movies that entertain are the norm, but films that enlighten, educate and inspire are so rare, yet so important and the Christopher Award shines light on these films, further illuminating their footprint on the planet. As one candle has the ability to cast out darkness, such is the power of one film to impact hearts and minds for the better. It’s truly an honor to be considered for a Christopher Award…and an incredible blessing to be awarded one.”

The TV offerings blend TV-movies, scripted series and documentary. They are “60 Minutes: Gold Star Parents,” “America ReFramed: In the Game,” “Born This Way: Bachelor Pad,” “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love,” “Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing” and hit freshman drama “This Is Us” (I had my say on that one).

Click here to read the whole release, including the rundown of worthy books for adults and young people.

Image: Courtesy NBC/Lionsgate

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘The Shack’: FTP’s Father David Guffey Talks About the Controversial New Movie

The-Shack-Sam-Worthington-Octavia-SpencerComing out this weekend, “The Shack,” based on best-selling book by William Paul Young, explores what happens when a grieving father (Sam Worthington) has an encounter with all three Persons of the Trinity, played by different actors — including “Hidden Figures” star Octavia Spencer as God the Father, or “Papa.”

Personifying the Trinity, and other aspects of the book’s theology, have caused some concerns.

Secular outlet The Hollywood Reporter had this to say:

With its sparkly spin on the New Testament, the film will be too New Agey for those who hew closely to doctrine (some conservative Christians have criticized the novel as a work of misguided heresy). But beyond theological debates, the feature is a leaden, belabored affair. However universal the perennial questions and struggles that The Shack illuminates, under Stuart Hazeldine’s plodding direction, its faith-based brand of self-help feels like being trapped in someone else’s spiritual retreat — in real time.

And this, from Catholic deacon and movie critic Steven Greydanus:

Like many popular sensations, from Titanic to Twilight, from Dan Brown to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, The Shack is easy to rip apart if one has a mind to. It’s too didactic for drama, too literal for allegory, too artless for poetry, and too fuzzy for theology. The writing is folksy and florid; when Mack falls in his driveway, he doesn’t just get a bump on his head: The lump emerges “like a humpbacked whale breaching the wild waves of his thinning hair.”

Although an enthusiastic cover blurb from Eugene Peterson compares The Shack to Pilgrim’s Progress, generically and thematically it’s somewhat closer to C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Lewis’ brilliant book, however, focuses on familiar foibles of human nature; Young attempts a portrait of sorts of the divine nature.

The Shack is essentially an imaginative exploration of theodicy, of the problem of evil, experienced not in the abstract, but as an existential crisis of faith. More broadly, it could be called a response to disappointment with God and disillusionment with religion.

David GuffeyAlso concerned, CatholicMom.com founder Lisa Hendey turned to our own Head of Production, Father David Guffey, C.S.C., to get his take. Here’s some of what he had to say:

The film is not a religious teaching on the doctrine of Trinity, any more than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a study of physical appearance of God. Each of these use artistic license to point to great truths of faith. Film is an art form and as art, evokes the imagination to discover mystery of life and the workings of God’s grace within it. I would not use this film to talk about Trinity, but instead as an opening to discuss the many ways that God is close to us and the ways that God actively tries to be part of our lives in the best of times and especially in the hardest of times.

I would encourage you to see this film with someone you can talk about it with afterwards. You will want to. It would be a great family movie night film the weekend of March 3, 2017.

After watching the film, invite family members to talk about the times in their life when they feel closest to God. Is it in nature or in a church or at a family gathering? How do we recognize the hand of God at work I the people around us and the events of our lives? Second, and perhaps more difficult, I would encourage a conversation on how the Phillips family coped with loss and grief.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Image: Courtesy Lionsgate

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Advent Entertainment Calendar for You and Your Family — Week Two

muppet-christmas-carol-ffbThe second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 4, is upon us, as Catholics and other Christians prepare to celebrate the Nativity.

In addition to such traditional customs as the Advent Wreath and keeping an Advent Calendar, we’re adding in a viewing calendar of online and TV offerings to enjoy as a family over the holidays.

Take a look below at seven more days of festive fun …

December 4, Second Sunday of Advent:

“Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July” 10:05 a.m. ET/PT on Freeform and via the Freeform App – The ultimate Christmas crossover special featuring Rudolph and Frosty in stop-motion animation.

“Saving Santa” on Netflix – A lowly stable elf finds that he is the only one who can stop an invasion of the North Pole by using the secret of Santa’s Sleigh, a TimeGlobe, to travel back in time to Save Santa – twice.

“The Muppet Christmas Carol” on HBO Go and HBO Now, or on DVD from Netflix – The Muppets tell their version of the classic Dickens tale about a miser whose life is changed, all in one Christmas Eve.

December 6, Second Tuesday of Advent:

“A Fairly Odd Christmas” on Hulu – Timmy Turner’s been going overboard with his wish granting, and now that Christmas is just around the corner, there’s almost nothing left for Santa to do! Can he save Christmas and get off the naughty list too?

December 8, Second Thursday of Advent:

“Toy Story That Time Forgot” 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC (or below!) – It’s a post-Christmas play date, and the toys have to go up against the fearsome and aggressive new dino toys.

“Shrek the Halls” 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC – This half-hour animated TV special features the Shrek characters putting their own spin on holiday traditions.

December 9, Second Friday of Advent:

“Albert” 7 p.m. ET/PT on Nickelodeon and available on Nick.com and the Nick AppThe network’s first original animated movie. based on the Big Golden Book about a tiny Douglas fir tree that goes on a journey to become the city’s most famous Christmas tree ever.

albert-nick

 

December 10, Second Saturday of Advent:

“Doc McStuffins: A Very McStuffins Christmas” on HuluDoc and her pals travel to Santa’s workshop in the North Pole.

Click here for part one and here for part three.

Images: Courtesy Walt Disney Productions/Jim Henson Productions; Big Golden Book

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

L.A.’s Bishop Barron Cheers for C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Great Divorce’

CS-Lewis-Great-DivorceSince I started working at Family Theater Productions, I acquired a daily commute, so I resonate with Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron’s reliance on the company of audiobooks while navigating the L.A. area’s interminable traffic.

I’ve been working my way through some purchases from Franciscan Media during the recent Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, while Bishop Barron — formerly Father Barron of Chicago, the founder of media apostolate Word on Fire — has been matriculating through C.S. Lewis’ religious fantasy work, “The Great Divorce.”

Today, he wrote an essay about why he recommends it.

It follows several ghosts that get a respite from Hell and take a bus trip to Heaven, where, apparently, they have an option to stay. Surprisingly, many don’t take it.

A 2014 essay in Crisis Magazine on “The Great Divorce” explains:

The majority of the characters in Lewis’s novel—given the choice after they visit the Bright World and learn of its conditions—prefer the Grey City to the Bright World for a variety of motives but ultimately for one main reason. A heretical bishop rejects the invitation because “I have to be back next Friday to read a paper. We have a little theological society down there.” To the cynic called “the hard-bitten ghost” the Bright World offers the same old thing: “A human being couldn’t live here. All that idea of staying is only an advertisement stunt.” To enter the Bright World the ghosts must surrender their attachments, opinions, addictions, and pride.

And …

The narrator (C.S. Lewis), one of the ghosts who desires to enter the heavenly kingdom and not return to the city, enjoys a conversation with the Spirit addressed as Teacher, George Macdonald, one of Lewis’s mentors in the art of fantasy literature. The Teacher explains the strange psychology of the Ghosts as the mentality of Milton’s Satan who boasted, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Macdonald compares these ghosts to a petulant child who “would sooner miss its play and supper than say it was sorry and be friends.” Of course Macdonald is defining the deadly sin of pride in all is many expressions, whether it assumes the form of Achilles’ wrath or Satan’s sense of “injured merit.”

In his essay, Bishop Barron observes that, while Hell seems immense to those entombed there:

However, when the narrator, in dialogue with a heavenly spirit, wonders where precisely Hell is in relation to the heavenly realm, the spirit bends down, pulls a single blade of grass and uses its tip to indicate a tiny, barely perceptible, fissure in the ground. “That’s where you came in,” he explains. All of Hell, which seemed so immense to the narrator, would fit into a practically microscopic space in Heaven. Lewis is illustrating here the Augustinian principle that sin is the state of being incurvatus in se (curved in around oneself). It is the reduction of reality to the infinitely small space of the ego’s concerns and preoccupations. Love, on the contrary, which is the very life of Heaven, is the opening to reality in its fullness; it amounts to a breaking through of the buffered and claustrophobic self; it is the activity of the magna anima (the great soul). We think our own little ego-centric worlds are so impressive, but to those who are truly open to reality, they are less than nothing.

In regard to another chapter, he says:

What I especially appreciate in this episode is Lewis’ spot-on representation of how the soul clings desperately to what is actually killing it, preferring, in W.H. Auden’s phrase, “to be ruined rather than changed.”

In my former life as a journalist covering television, I’ve seen any number of episodes of home and personal makeover shows — from “What Not to Wear” to “Clean House” — in which people desperately want to different lives, but just as desperately don’t want to change anything to achieve them.

I saw it so often that I’ve concluded it’s a fixture of human nature. It’s like wanting to have been a marathon runner while never going further than from the front door to the mailbox.

Here’s a peek at a stage production of “The Great Divorce”:

Image: HarperCollins Edition cover

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.