Hollywood’s Lenten Moment
A few years ago, I gave a presentation here at Lakeshore on the history of African Americans in film. That conversation was, in part, a response to the Oscars So White controversy that called out the lack of racial diversity in not only that august awards ceremony, but the industry as a whole. It was also an attempt to celebrate the black visionaries and voices that had made such strong contributions to the history of cinema thus far, even if they had been forgotten or under-appreciated.
Fast forward to 2018, and we find ourselves in a different moment. At the risk of being hyperbolic, I wonder if Hollywood (and the entertainment industry at large) isn’t experiencing its own Lenten moment. Consider two approaches to the practice of Lent: let’s broadly define them as giving up and taking on. For many Christians, Lent is a time to sacrifice, to fast from a particular food, social media, or emotion (fear, worry, anger, etc.). For others, it’s a time to take on a spiritual practice, be it prayer, meditation, or service. Both are vital to our spiritual formation and well-being.
If we lean into the notion of Lent as an assumption of a new way of being, perhaps we can look at movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp as more than the latest battles in the war for equality. Perhaps they are a spiritual awakening that prophetically values women and people of color, while pointing out the abuses and injustices in an industry that for too long has been dominated by straight white men. Lest you think these are just hollow hashtags or passing social media trends, consider the real leaders and creatives that are joining together to put real resources behind efforts to build a better, safe, and more equitable way forward. Just this week Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and writer/director/producer Ava Duvernay launched a diversity initiative to fund paid internships for young people from underserved communities. Hollywood executive Nina Tassler and producer Denise Di Novi have created PatMa Productions, a new studio that will focus on more inclusive storytelling and narratives.
Of course, Lent is a reminder that we are human (dust, after all) and, therefore, imperfect. Abuses will continue, as will discrimination. Work within these movements will be flawed and falter. Comedian Dave Chappelle cautioned his audience, “Ladies, you’re going to have some imperfect allies.” Nevertheless, we are already seeing the fruits of labor for a more diverse entertainment industry. Consider this year’s Oscar nominations for Best Picture. Films like Lady Bird, Get Out, Call Me by Your Name, and The Shape of Water, to name a few, are both timely and, likely, timeless. Audiences have good reason to look forward to fresh, inspiring content. For the Christians in the audience, a question lingers. Will corners of the Church that still prop up male privilege and harbor abusers have their own Lenten moment?
— Ryan Parker