Category: Tony Sands

‘Game of Thrones’: What If HBO’s Sexy, Violent Fantasy Is Your Only View of Faith?

“Game of Thrones” fans have kept the faith, but what about the show?

The social media world was abuzz on Sunday, July 16, with the long awaited premiere of the 7th season of Game of Thrones. While many Catholics, Protestants and other faithful question the morality of even watching the show, which is known for its graphic violence, sex and language, one fact that can’t be ignored is that millions of people watch each episode.

For example, from TechCrunch:

In total, the season 7 premiere reached a combined audience of 16.1 million viewers across its linear TV airing, same day DVR playback, and streaming via HBO GO and HBO NOW. That’s a 50 percent increase over the season 6 premiere last year, HBO says.

One things the show is not known for but is very much a part of series is religion. In fact, rather than being godless, the universe of Game of Thrones has too many gods. There are the Old Gods, symbolized by the Werewoods, trees with the faces of humans carved in them. This faith is vaguely pagan and has some of the trappings of Celtic Druids. Then, there are the New Gods, also known as The Seven, but they are 7 faces of 1 God. As many mainstream Christians might figure out, this is much like the concept of the Holy Trinity, 3 persons in 1 God.

The religion of the New Gods has definite connections to Medieval Christianity, especially since the religious of this faith wear clothes strongly reminiscent of nuns’ habits and monks’ robes. Sadly, the show depicts the hierarchy of this faith as righteous bullies who, in seeking the truth and talking about mercy, really focus on shame and power. The evil queen Cersei famously blows up their Great Sept (cathedral) with the High Sparrow (Pope or Patriarch) inside it after he threatens her rule.

A third religion follows the Lord of Light, R’hllor, who is a God of fire and the sun. This faith has the marking of Islam with R’hllor being a sometimes harsh god whose will is mysterious and is to be obeyed, not questioned. To the followers of R’hllor, all other religions are false and will ultimately need to be wiped out. Also, this Lord of Light occasionally demands that people be burned at the stake in sacrifice.

Lastly, there is the Faceless God, whose clergy are an assassin’s guild. This god is Death, the god that, according to his followers, everyone must eventually meet.

Why this matters is that since the show has 25 million viewers, and currently only 20% of the Catholic faithful actually attend Mass each week, there is a good chance more people watched Game of Thrones this past Sunday than the total number of Catholics who went to church in the entire nation. If this series has something to say about faith, be aware that it has a big audience listening. One interesting facet of the show is that it does indeed seem to have something say about faith.

A part of this first episode of the new season that didn’t get as much attention on Twitter is that the show brought up some pointed spiritual questions. These issues of faith came mostly through the character of Sandor Clegane, known as the Hound for his ferocity in battle and loyalty to the king.

He began the series as a notoriously violent, heartless, amoral and cynical character, who after being saved from grievous wounds by a septon (priest) of the New Gods – thankfully some followers of The Seven are shown as good – he seems to be undergoing a change of heart.

In this most recent episode, Sandor has joined a band of Robin Hood-style outlaws who are trying to fight for justice for the common people. The outlaws believe in the Lord of Light, whose followers often do good things when they’re not burning people at the stake. Sandor’s one great weakness is a fear of fire which has plagued him since childhood when he was badly burned as a boy. He makes the comment “Just my luck that I would fall in with a band of fire worshippers” to which the priest of the group replies to the atheistic Clegane, “Yes, it’s almost like divine justice.” This is not lost on Sandor.

The leader of the outlaws, Beric Dondarrion, is famous because he has been killed multiple times, but on each occasion, the priest has brought him back to life by the power of R’hllor. After coming across a cottage containing a dead peasant and his daughter, Sandor accosts Beric with a question “Why you [Beric]? Why does the Lord of Light bring you back to life but not these people? And not this little girl? You are no better than her.”

Now both of these statements make for a scenario to which most people, especially people of faith, can relate. Events happen in our lives – “coincidences”, or “divine providence” the faithful might say – that seem to clearly indicate God’s hand at work. Then, life moves in another direction and God is seemingly nowhere to be found. This ranges from terrorist attacks that kill innocents, to seemingly bad people having good jobs, positions of power, or the luxuries of life, while seemingly good people live in poverty, get passed over at work, or struggle with finances or health. We wonder why? Is God there, if so, does He care?

The key thing for us who believe in Christ is that Jesus helps us understand the answers to these questions. While in each individual case the answer may vary, the important thing is that we ultimately know that we have a good God who suffers with us, and who has suffered for us and, no matter the good or the bad, will never leave our side.

It is interesting to note that a show so popular is asking some of the big questions of life and ones that are very theological. Where interest needs to meet action is that we must take the challenge of getting to know our faith so we understand the answers to such questions and can give a better response than Beric’s, whose only reply to Clegane is “You’re right. I don’t know. I guess the Lord isn’t done with me yet.”

We need theses answers for ourselves… and just in case one of our friends, family or acquaintances happens to be one of those millions of viewers, especially if Game of Thrones is one of the only ways they encounter religion at all.

Tony Sands is the Senior Producer for Family Theater Productions

Image: Courtesy HBO

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.

Reflecting on the Legacy of William Peter Blatty and ‘The Exorcist’

William-Peter-Blatty-FFBEarly in the morning of Friday, Jan. 13, “The Exorcist” director William Friedkin announced via Twitter that his friend and collaborator, William Peter Blatty — who wrote both the novel and screenplay for the 1973 film — had passed away the day before.


Blatty, a lifelong Catholic of Lebanese extraction, was 89. Born in New York City, he attended a Jesuit high school and later studied at Georgetown and George Washington Universities. After working as a door-to-door salesman and a stint in the Air Force, Blatty came to Los Angeles in the 1950s. He worked in PR and journalism, later writing comedy, ghostwriting for advice author Dear Abby (Abigail Van Buren) and penning more than a dozen novels.

His most recent book was “Finding Peter: A True Story of the Hand of Providence and Evidence of Life After Death” in 2015, which focused on his only child, son Peter, who died of a heart ailment in 2006.


Blatty remains best known for “The Exorcist,” published in 1971. It was a literary hit, and that may be because of a bit of divine intervention.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

After an extremely slow start, his Exorcist novel wound up selling 13 million copies, thanks in large part to an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show.

Beatty was booked on the talk show at the last minute when someone else fell through, then given more time when the first guest, actor Robert Shaw, was sent off early (he may have been drunk, Blatty noted in a 2013 interview with the Los Angeles Times).

“I always believe that there is a divine hand everywhere,” said Blatty, who got to chat about his book with Cavett for nearly 45 minutes on national TV. The Exorcist then jumped to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list and attracted the attention of Warner Bros. head John Calley.

Here at Family Theater Productions, we’re big fans of Blatty and “The Exorcist” — I even liked the Fox spin-off series of the same name, which just finished its first season on a high note — so I turned to a couple of our film experts for opinions.

First, here’s Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a Holy Cross priest (FTP was founded by a Holy Cross priest, Father Patrick Peyton, and remains under the auspices of the order), who’s also trained in film production. He’s currently at Holy Cross’ Notre Dame University, teaching a film-related course. Reached by email, he wrote:

I join with Catholics, priests, exorcists and people of good will around the world in mourning the loss of William Peter Blatty, famed writer of THE EXORCIST, an account of the real-life exorcism that took place at St. Louis University many years ago. In a cynical world that often scoffs at the mere mention of the supernatural, Blatty gave us pause to consider the reality of evil and the sacred actions required to drive it out.

As a young child, my father encouraged me to watch THE EXORCIST to counterbalance the now, in hindsight, laughable horror films I so cherished in the 1980s. The film did not disappoint. I ran out of the living room and dove under the covers of my bed the first time I saw Regan “spider walk.” Little did I know, the seeds for a vocation to priesthood were planted.

I hope the consulting work I continue to do on demonic-possession films and television programs will honor the memory of William … scaring future audiences, to be true, but leading them to greater faith as well.

Then I turned to Anthony Sands, FTP’s Senior Producer and resident film buff, for his reaction. He wrote:

William Blatty not only impacted Hollywood and entertainment, but all of American culture as well as American Catholicism. In the 1960s and 1970s, the first winds of the “Spirit of Vatican II” were making their way from Europe and into the U.S. Among many alterations that were entering into the Catholic Church was a mentality that Catholics were seen as a backward, superstitious lot who believed in “magic” and were trapped in the Dark Ages. Part of the push came, sometimes through the offices of the U.S. hierarchy, to distance ourselves from the supernatural or unexplained and focus on the historical, the strictly factual and modern explanations of ancient beliefs.

One of the biggest ideas was to get away from the idea of the Devil, or actual demons, and write off Satan and his legions as a creation of the Medieval church, or a literary construct used by Christ to explain the concept of evil to an uneducated people. Demons were also being recast, as merely the figurative term the Gospels used to explain things like mental illness to a culture 2,000 years before Freud and popular psychology (which was quickly becoming the rage of 1960s and ‘70s.)

The Devil was becoming an idea rather than a person, and many, many in America, both in the Church and in the culture, were happy to see that occur.

Then enter William Blatty, with his book based on the case of an actual exorcism in the U.S. The book became the Academy Award-winning film “The Exorcist,” and Blatty helped make Satan and his demons real again. He made evil a tangible thing that had to be addressed, confronted and overcome, and not just an “outdated concept driven disordered psychoses” as many in the pop psychology culture wished it to become.

“The Exorcist” made it acceptable to believe in real good and evil.

Also, in a culture that recently embraced the motto “F- the Man!”, it make it OK to show a priest in full clerics back on the big screen again. Blatty both reinvented the horror film and certainly created a new sub-genre, the Supernatural Thriller. Blockbusters today ranging from “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” to the “The Conjuring” movies are part of the “The Exorcist’s” legacy.

Today, one of the few recurring roles that depict priests as good people are in films where they are shown performing exorcisms.

Granted, no one person, book or film is solely responsible for such massive cultural shifts. However, they can have great influence. Consider this — up until the 1960’s, every Catholic priest was given the faculties of exorcist as part of his ordination. That stopped in the 1960s.

Then “The Exorcist” came out in 1971. Now, every diocese is once again required to have at least one dedicated exorcist. Sometimes art and an artist can give us a clearer view of our world, even if the view is to recognize darkness.

Well done, William Peter Blatty, good and faithful servant.

Images: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Warner Bros. Pictures

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.


Faith in Horror: What Good Can Come Out of Being Scared?

The-Exorcist-William-Peter-BlattyIt’s an irony that some of the most positive portrayals of the Catholic Church — whose major mission is to spread Christ’s Gospel of peace, love and sacrifice — is in the horror genre, especially when the Church is going up against ultimate evil.

I always joke, when Satan and his minions are threatening to sweep over the face of the Earth, Hollywood always goes for a priest.

All of this could be just a case of visual shorthand, since we have the Latin, the outfits, the rituals, etc., that make for good visual storytelling. But it’s also a kind of compliment, even if it’s a backhanded one, in that Hollywood takes our connection to God seriously enough to portray us as the last bastion against supernatural evil. In an entertainment world where true faith is often treated as a superstition or a joke, the power of the Cross against demons still has great appeal for the audience.

Los Angeles’ own Bishop Barron discusses it here …

Of course, not all horror movies have Catholic priests as protagonists, and Catholics enjoy scary movies as much as anyone. So, how should we think about them? How far is too far?

content_tonyFamily Theater Productions’ own Senior Producer, Tony Sands recently took part in a panel discussion sponsored by Bel-Air Presbyterian, a Protestant megachurch in the L.A. area. The wide-ranging discussions cover many aspects of the horror genre and how it relates to faith.

Click here to watch the talk in segments.

But back on the topic of exorcism, here’s an excerpt of what Bishop Barron has to say about the 1973 film version of “The Exorcist” in his video, which is as much about the Catholic priesthood as anything:

The film is meditating on two great truths. First, it shows how the young priest moved, slowly and painfully, from a cramped rationalism to a keen sense of a dimension that transcends our ordinary experience. It demonstrates how he came to appreciate the properly supernatural and to understand how his priesthood relates him precisely to that realm. I believe, by the way, that the persistent popularity of the genre of the exorcism film is largely a function of this clear communication of the reality of the transcendent realm, especially during our time when an ideological secularism holds sway. In our guts, we know that there is something “more,” and stories about demonic possession give that intuition vivid confirmation. Secondly, “The Exorcist” shows that the mission of a priest finds its fullest expression in the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the good of the other. Both priests died in battle, defending a little girl whom they barely knew but who had been entrusted to their care. The very last scene of the film is arresting. As Regan and her mother are pulling away in a car, happily leaving the place where they had endured so much suffering, the girl spots a priest in a Roman collar. She asks the driver to stop, and she runs out, throws her arms around the priest and kisses him. It was her tribute to the men who had saved her.

Like any other movie genre, nobody likes everything. Personally, I don’t enjoy slasher films or overly gory films, preferring to stay with psychological thrillers and, of course, the “Catholic horror” genre, if you will, including “The Omen” movies, “Stigmata,” “The Exorcist” and the like. Everyone should know what he or she can tolerate, and if there’s doubt about the spiritual impact of a movie, either leave it alone or discuss it with a priest or spiritual director.

The argument can be made, as is discussed in the videos, that the glamour of Satan and of evil in general can be overdone in horror films. That is certainly true and must be guarded against. But when you see a priest, pushed to the limits of his mental, physical, psychological and spiritual abilities, standing with nothing but the Cross and his faith against the demonic — well, there’s hardly a better advertisement for the Truth of the Faith than that.

Image: “The Exorcist,” courtesy Warner Bros.

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.

Should You Go See ‘Ben-Hur’?

Ben-Hur-chariot-race-ffbThe Big Question about the new version of “Ben-Hur,” hitting theaters on Friday, Aug. 19, is, “Should Catholics go see it?”

The answer: YES!

It is an intense and entertaining period-piece drama with engaging characters and enough thrills and action to make it a fun summer blockbuster with – and here’s a shocker – an uplifting, positive ending.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: to properly enjoy this film do not spend the entire time you are watching it, making mental comparisons to the blockbuster 1959 film, starring Charlton Heston as a Jewish nobleman wrongly accused, who becomes a galley slave and eventually returns to seek retribution in a chariot race against his rival and one-time friend (Stephen Boyd).

This is a new “Ben-Hur” for a new generation, and I promise the enjoyment will be seeing it with fresh eyes rather than weighing it down with memories from the past.

Now this can bring up another big questions such as “Why remake Ben-Hur?”

This query has many answers and I’m sure I don’t know them all, but there is an important one I do know, and it’s a bit of insight into Hollywood. When a studio makes a movie it is a very, very expensive gamble. Some movies make hundreds of millions of dollars, while many films don’t even earn back their budget, not to mention how much it costs to advertise them, distribute them … you get the idea. Part of the problem is the advertising. How can filmmakers get their movie to stand out and actually get people into movie theaters when there are so many choices?

Producers have realized that one way to improve the odds for their movie is to take a story that already has a following, a built-in audience of fans, or some kind of brand name that will encourage people to see it on the big screen. The name for this kind of content even has an industry name, “branded entertainment.” That is why we are seeing so many re-makes, sequels, and movies based on everything from books to board games. It’s the reason why almost every other film is from a comic book.

Therefore, it is no surprise that a studio like MGM would bring out “Ben-Hur,” one of its most famous, older titles for a new audience.  Unfortunately, it is also no surprise that this causes people to compare the new one to the original.

Just to call out the elephant in the room, I’ve read other reviews and more than half of their comments are all about the comparisons.

This is a mistake. Let this movie stand on its own!

Here is what I did and what I highly recommend (understanding that the movie is rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images, not for language or sex). Ask yourself, would this be an entertaining summer movie? Here is my checklist:

  • Does it have interesting, engaging characters? CHECK

It’s the story of Judah Ben-Hur, played by Jack Huston (“Boardwalk Empire”), who is falsely accused and betrayed by his brother and best friend, Messala (Toby Kebbell) thereby losing everything he loves. That’s good tension, I’m in!

  • Does it have a good story? CHECK

Ben-Hur struggles against all odds to survive in order to win his freedom, save his family, and get revenge.  Well, those are pretty high stakes.

  • Does it have strong drama or intense action? DOUBLE CHECK, it has BOTH!

Rivalry, intrigue, betrayal and revenge are all part of the drama and murder, war, sea battles, and chariot racing are part of the action. Definitely not boring!


Yep, this period piece, action drama actually has a positive theme that makes you feel good about life at the end.

*NOTE: This is far more than I can say for the films that where number 1 and 2 at Box Office last weekend. “Suicide Squad” features a paper-thin plot where the government tries to use bad guys to fight badder guys – so I guess, it’s message is fight evil with evil. Then, “Sausage Party” mocks all religion and ends with animated food items engaging in a XXX-rated free-for-all. If that sounds confusing, stupid and disgusting, you pretty much summed up the whole movie.

That being said, if these films can be big earners at the box office, then we should definitely celebrate “Ben-Hur,” which is a much better movie, is legitimately GREAT fun, and has far better values!

Will it become another immortal classic like the original? I leave that for you to judge.

But see “Ben-Hur.” It is a thrill ride with a timeless yet timely message, and it definitely hits all the check marks for good blockbuster entertainment!

Image: Courtesy Paramount/MGM

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.


Fun, Facts and Faith About ‘The Young Messiah’

The-Young-Messiah-FFMBlogHitting theaters this weekend, right in the heart of Lent, is a new movie ostensibly about the childhood of Jesus Christ, “The Young Messiah.” With any movie about our Lord and Savior, it comes with its share of controversy; therefore, if you are considering seeing this film, here is some food for thought, especially for parents and families.

The Fun: “The Young Messiah” is not theology. It is not Gospel. It is only loosely historical. However, it is fun! It is a family adventure of biblical proportions, it’s a coming of age film about the King of the Ages, and it’s a road movie with donkeys and boats instead of a Winnebago or the family station wagon. Seen in the light of entertainment, the film is sweet, heartfelt and thoroughly enjoyable.

Warning! There are some scenes that may be too intense for little kids. The devil appears, played by Rory Keenan.

Though he is never named as Satan and looks more like an ‘80s rock star with long blond hair rather than the horned Lord of the Flies, he is spooky and menacing. So is King Herod Archelaus who keeps seeing snakes everywhere.

Also, there are depictions of people being crucified. The last is shown in a mostly bloodless, sanitized way; however, seeing any living person hung from a cross may be too intense for any child below a certain age. Actually, Mary averts the gaze of Jesus in the movie, and he is supposed to be seven years old at the time. Perhaps this is a good guide for parents, so you can be warned depending on the sensitivity of your children.

Aside from these aspects, the film has definitely been created for families and was produced by the same company, 1492, with Christopher Columbus, that brought us the first “Harry Potter” movies and another children’s book series, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.”

From the standpoint of family entertainment, “The Young Messiah” is certainly worth watching, and as you will constantly hear me preach, go see the film its opening weekend, or very soon after, because a movie’s opening box office means everything to Hollywood. This is the way to ensure that more faith and family films will come out in the future.

The Facts: While this film provides engaging family entertainment, Do NOT look to it for the facts. Do not assume that this is a biblically or historically accurate portrayal of Christ’s childhood. The movie tells the story of a year in the life of a seven-year-old Jesus, but it is a fiction.

Of course, this is largely not the film’s fault. The simple truth is we know very little, for sure, about the life of Christ between his birth and Presentation at the Temple and the beginning of his public ministry, usually understood to take place after Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan by his cousin, John the Baptist, when Christ was about 30 years old.

The one exclusive exception is when Jesus visits Jerusalem with his parents when he is 12, and stays behind after they leave, forcing them to search for him for three days before finding him in the temple.

What we do know about Christ’s birth and childhood can be found almost exclusively in the Gospel of Matthew — Chapter 1, Verse 18, to Chapter 2, Verse 23; and in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1, Verse 5, to Chapter 2, Verse 52 — that is the sum total. It is upon these less than 200 verses that our knowledge about Christ’s childhood rests.

Getting back to the Facts, what the movie is based upon is a book titled “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” by Anne Rice, an author probably best known for her “Interview with the Vampire” series. Rice wrote the book in 2005 shortly after a re-version back to Catholicism that took place in the early 2000s (and which, unfortunately, ended in 2010). Rice based her fiction novel on historical texts about Egypt and the Holy Land during the First Century A.D., and books from the Apocrypha, specifically the Gnostic Gospels.

If you have never heard of these books, that is in part intentional, because they often claim to be by same famous disciple and claim to reveal some part of Christ’s life, but are in fact of dubious authorship, dubious authenticity, dubious historical accuracy and are simply dubious in general. Some of the most famous of these books are the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.

One of the reasons we don’t give them much weight is that the earliest versions of these texts date to the Second Century, and since Christ died between 28 and 40 A.D., and his disciples died in the First Century, these books are written by authors who certainly never met Christ and almost as certainly never met the people they are claimed to be written by – whoops!

However, sometimes there are interesting tidbits to be taken even from ancient works of fiction. They include interesting stories such as a young Jesus bringing a dead bird back to life, which is shown in the film, and more disturbing stories, such as Jesus killing another boy by accidentally using his “God  powers” and then bringing him back to life. This is also depicted in the film but in a sanitized way.

In fact, we don’t even know Christ’s age when his family returns from Egypt. The film says seven years old, but he could have been far younger since the Bible says they returned after Herod’s death during the reign of Archelaus in Judea, and Archelaus was king from 4BC to 6 A.D., so the oldest that Christ would have been is seven. The key thing is to not take the movie as historical truth, and don’t get bogged down by the dates and exact facts. In that light, the film is loosely historically accurate but mostly just fun.

Two additional fun facts to note:

1) To show the universal power of Christ’s story, one of the primary producers of the film is Michael Barnathan, who is himself actually Jewish. He points out that is the story of a Jewish family, which is correct. Though, it is the story of the very first Christian family, as well.

2) If you are wondering why everyone speaks with a British accent when they are supposed to be Middle Eastern, that is a fair question. The fact is that the producers looked at over 5,000 boys to play the role of Jesus. The child they chose, Adam Greaves-Neal — whom I think gives a solid performance for someone so young, and who is supposed to be the son of God — is from England. The producers then cast around him, keeping everyone with similar accents to maintain consistency and avoid a mish-mash of voices.

Finally, Faith: To be clear, “The Young Messiah” is not a theological treatise on Jesus, and should NOT be taken as Gospel truth. If you want to see Gospel truth, please take a look at the links above – to the actual Gospels.

That said, the film can raise a number of questions, one of the most obvious being, what did Jesus know about himself and when? To answer this most simply, Catholic doctrine is that Jesus the Christ is fully human and fully divine, fully man and fully God. Therefore, he knew he was the Son of the God and the Messiah. That being said, exactly how much he knew and when he knew it is not quite so clear.

We do know, again by the Gospels, that when Joseph and Mary found Jesus in the Temple at the age of 12, they asked Him what He was doing, and didn’t He know they would be looking for Him? He responds, “Didn’t  you know I would be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Notice, he‘s not in a carpenter’s shop working on some furniture (which would make sense if He thought He was Joseph’s child). Instead, He is in the one and only Temple of the Lord God, debating with the Jewish teachers. Clearly, He knows quite a bit of who He is by that age.

Also, it says one verse later, that His parents “did not understand what He said to them,” showing that He had this knowledge by some means beyond His parents.

To further clarify, some people claim that Christ did not know He was God, or the son of God, or the Messiah, until the Resurrection and possibly not even then. That is NOT backed up by the Bible and that is certainly NOT Catholic teaching. However, could Christ’s knowledge of himself been fuzzy before He was 12 and in the temple? It is possible, and certainly there is enough wiggle room where one can watch “The Young Messiah” and not worry about it being heresy.

Therefore, if you have the time, take your family and enjoy the film. If you have questions, take this as an opportunity to open a Bible – with a Catholic good commentary – and share the Good News of Our Lord and Savior with each other.

*NOTE: the US Council of Catholic Bishops provides not only the entire Bible online, but it is accompanied a pretty good commentary.

Please feel free to ask us any follow up questions as well. Happy watching and have a blessed Lent!

8 Ways You Can Think About, and React to, the Oscar Win by ‘Spotlight’

SpotlightSo, “Spotlight”– the searing drama about The Boston Globe’s investigation into the priest sex-abuse scandal in Boston, published in early 2002 — won the Oscar for Best Picture.


What do we do now?

At my Pax Culturati blog over at Patheos Catholic, I tackle the technicalities of the why, and what anti-Catholicism did or didn’t have to do with it. Click here for the whole thing (which includes some reaction to the film from the Vatican), but here’s a taste:

…here are some showbiz things to know about why “Spotlight” won, and the reasons have more to do with the voters and how they voted than a Tinseltown conspiracy to throw more mud on the Church.

Here’s one explanation from The Hollywood Reporter:

Spotlight was a beneficiary of the preferential ballot employed by the Academy and only one other major awards group, the Producers Guild of America. This system is intended to produce a winner that everyone at least likes — a film that might appear at No. 2 or 3 on most ballots — as opposed to one that the largest fraction of people loved but most others did not, like DGA Award winner The Revenant.

The PGA’s employment of this system produced a PGA Award win for The Big Short, which, for a time, put that dramedy in the pole position for the Oscar in the view of most pundits. But there was a difference that many of us failed to account for: The PGA is comprised of producers, whereas the largest branch of the Academy is comprised of actors, whose clear preference was Spotlight, as evidenced by the SAG Awards. Pundits should be forgiven, though: On the four other occasions in which the top three guilds each picked a different winner, the best picture Oscar twice went to the PGA’s pick and twice to the DGA’s pick, but never to SAG’s pick — until Sunday.

“Spotlight” had some other things going for it. It’s an ensemble cast; it employed people who were more working actors than big movie stars; and it was dialogue-heavy, as opposed to action-heavy. All of these things appeal to other actors, who make up the largest voting bloc in the Motion Picture Academy.

Critics might have preferred outdoor action drama “The Revenant” and its big star turn for Leonardo DiCaprio (who finally took home his long-awaited Best Actor Oscar), but it evidently didn’t appeal as much to actors.

On Oscar Sunday, Feb. 28, Tony Sands, the Senior Producer here at Family Theater Productions, and I livetweeted the awards from @FamilyTheater1 on Twitter. Here’s his take — informed both by faith and by his showbiz knowledge — on what we should do going forward. Take it away, Tony.

Thank you, Kate, and to our readers, I would make a handful of suggestions:

  1. Own It (the Bad and the Good): Say, especially if someone confronts you, “Yes, it happened, it was terrible, and the fact that it occurred to even one child is a tragedy.” The silver lining is, it is helping to purify the church, both of sexual predators but also of those who protected them. It helped us all become more aware of our duty to defend the most vulnerable. Also, we have made huge strides now making us one of the safest institutions that regularly interacts with minors.
  2. Know It: Educate yourself on what the Church is doing to address this issue. As EWTN writer Joan Desmond details in this piece for the National Catholic Register, the Church has implemented many programs, from the Safeguard the Children program in this diocese, to the “Zero Tolerance” policy in most dioceses. Due to this stance, if a religious or priest is even accused of molestation, the first step is to remove the person from ministry involving children. Then, investigations begin to see if the claim is valid. American Catholics have decided to err on the side of caution.
  3. Confront It: Identify the lies and know the truth, then share it. It has been said, “you may be the only gospel somebody ever reads.” To that end, if someone brings up this issue, in a loving way, acknowledge their thoughts. Listen. But also feel free to address misconceptions or explain the facts. Examples of misconceptions to address: *Note, I’m going to use the word “they” in my example below because people often don’t actually know who they’re speaking about when referring to the clergy scandal.
  4. “They all knew. They were all a part of it”: That’s a lie. The majority of reliable, secular news sources, like Newsweek, identify the percentage of priests accused of abuse at 3-5%. To clarify, that is not the number convicted of abuse but the number accused. By definition the very definition, this is not “all.” This means the great majority of priests and religious had no involvement and no knowledge of what was going on, until the story broke in the media.
  5. “They let it happen”: Also a lie. In nearly every case of abuse that was settled, the priest or religious involved was sent some type of counseling or rehabilitation program. It was commonly believed that pedophilia, and many such disorders could be “cured”; it wasn’t until the mid- to late ’90s that it became generally accepted that pedophilia couldn’t be eradicated. This is especially important to remember because the majority of abuse cases took place 30, 40 and sometimes 50 years ago. In many instances, a diocese had spent tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars “rehabilitating” a priest or priests. This is a huge answer to a question that plagued me. Why return a molester back to service? The answer: because thousands of dollars had been spent to “fix” the priest, who swore he was “better” and this statement was backed by a clean bill of health given by a trained and licensed psychiatrist.
  6. “This is a Catholic problem.” I mention this in particular because of the participation by people involved in the film in a “protest” in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles (protest is in quotes because only 20 people attended). Also, I mention it because of the direct call out during the Oscars to the Vatican, when producer Michael Sugar said, “Pope Francis, it is time to protect the children and restore the faith.” Yes, these abuses must be addressed, but if these actors and filmmakers sincerely cared about children and the truth, then they fell far short. At the very least, the protest should have moved from the cathedral to the nearest Protestant community, the neighborhood Jewish synagogue, and then it certainly needed to make a stop in front of headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Finally, if the protesters were really being honest, they would have ended in front of Kodak Theater protesting the Oscars themselves. Why? Because preconceptions must be met with facts. The rate of abuse in the Catholic Church is tragic, but it is about equal to that of all other major denomination, and that in the Jewish faith. If you’re thinking maybe it’s a religious issue, think again. The percentage of molestation is twice that high in public schools. Child abuse occurs in Hollywood, and is depicted in the recent documentary “Hush.” Please remember that while the Academy voted for “Spotlight” yesterday, it awarded an Oscar in 2003 to the director Roman Polanski. While Polanski is famous for the classic movie “Chinatown,” he is also infamous for fleeing the U.S. to escape sentencing for molesting a 13-year-old girl. While the Academy honored a film that condemned molestation last night, it had literally given a standing ovation to an admitted child molester just one year after the church scandals broke. These facts are not brought up in effort to spread dirt, but to remind us that we need to fight against injustice everywhere, not just where it’s convenient for us to see it.
  7. Stand Up: If you feel the issue portrayed truly bothers you, say something about it. A number of celebrities, including the very well-paid Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith complained about an injustice — the lack of diversity — they saw in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. While the president of the Academy, the host of the Oscars, and multiple award presenters were all African-American, these voices were heard. Feel free to use your voice if you truly feel led to do so. They may not listen, but you won’t know if you don’t try.
  8. (Lastly) Stay Calm: The Academy represents a very small percentage of people. They are people with a VERY loud microphone, but they are still a minority. Thank goodness above all of us is Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Light. Despite all that has happened, God has graced the Catholic Church with ever increasing members as He calls all people to Himself. In the U.S., last year alone, more people joined the Catholic Church through RCIA than all the other denominations combined. I say this not to promote some sense of superiority but to remind us to have peace in our hearts because God’s grace prevails.

To end, it is the responsibility of every Christian to listen when truth is spoken, whether by a priest from a pulpit or a producer from an awards stage. We must always strive for the justice our Savior calls each of us to show, but ultimately our duty is to pray, to love, and to be faithful — the rest we trust to God.

Image: Courtesy Open Road Films

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