When we watch old-fashioned westerns today, it is almost a sure thing that we will comment on the unfortunate, naïve caricatures of Native Americans. Similarly, we often fuss and flinch over movies just a few decades old that portray women in the confines of stereotypes, brainless beauties who exist only to serve men as objects of affection, damsels in distress, trophies for heroes, or as a mindless Mom.
But Christians are often shocked and dismayed over the stereotype that won't go away: the villainous, judgmental, legalistic Christian determined to spoil the party.
One particular instance of a film's portrayal of Christians—from 1960—has recently made the news. Inherit the Wind recounts the story of the 1925 Scopes Trial and was recently shown in a sophomore biology class at Shawnee Mission East, a Kansas City high school. When parents learned that the school was showing what they argue is a flawed and anti-Christian film, they went to the school board. The matter is now in the hands of a school district special committee.
The church is frequently portrayed on the big screen in an unflattering light. God, on the other hand, usually gets a positive (if shallow) portrayal. And angels needn't worry about their reputation either: in It's a Wonderful Life they're shown as kind and helpful, if a bit sentimental, and in Wings of Desire they're powerful messengers of comfort and pilgrims haunted by questions about spiritual mysteries and death. But why does the cliché of the scowling, ranting Christian continue?
In hopes of offering some consolation for persecuted Christians of the silver screen, I asked Film Forum readers to dig up some examples of Christians portrayed properly. The result was rather surprising. So many names were ...1