As you may already know, in Hollywood there exists a strange stance on God. Never an industry to shy away from extremism, many non-religious films that mention God show one of two depictions: either there is a God that is sociable and able to communicate with the characters or a God that exists merely in the fabrics of tradition, but whose presence is never felt beyond the statues that hang in the deadening church. With these two opposing views, naturally, comes opposing views on fate. On one hand, those who go with a more social God get an adjusted future. God can, like a business deal, be negotiated with, which also means a negotiation of one’s fate. If you are really lucky, like in cases of Bruce Almighty (2003), God will decide that he is wearing himself too thin (he is on a tight schedule, after all), will sign up for a vacation, and will leave all power to you. Conveniently, though you will have access to the problems of all, yours will be front and center.
The second kind of God is the foreign type, the kind that hides in forgotten churches, who is bound in convention, but who is still relevant for some (and exactly who that type of person is, we will get to later). Similar to the first God, this God can also be negotiated with, though on a different level. Instead of directly speaking to God, you can do so through prayer. If you are Catholic in Hollywood, then you are extra lucky, because you can do whatever you wish so long as you follow proper church procedure. As the character Calogero Anello in A Bronx Tale (1993) says, “It was great to be Catholic and go to confession. You could start over every week.” In this category, it is very common to see the Catholic gangster praying to God after yet another assassination made (but he really is sorry about it, and to be sure he’ll say the Rosemary eight times instead of seven).
Of course, in Hollywood feature films, it is quite dangerous to actually believe in a God who gives you more than a stamp of approval and a ticket into heaven. If you are actually religious, if you actually believe in the Bible and all of the stories that go along with it, if you obey more than saying the Rosemary, then you will most always be cast in either the conservative, dull character who does not allow for fun in life or, as is coming more common, the role as the crazy religious person who is far too gone in fantasy to see any truth at all. You will never get the chance to be a lead character, as that would involve getting an audience to spend more time with you and possibly relate to your views, so you will be the comedic relief whenever such scenes are required.
Those hoping for more screen time may be happy to know that they can find it, but it does come with a price. Instead of being the crazy (perhaps still lovable) relative or friend of a friend, you can be the evil villain who uses God to further your secret plans of world domination under your religion’s power.
If you haven’t caught on yet, yes, these are stereotypes. But why is it that only a certain kind get focused on in mainstream Hollywood films? I cannot accept it as coincidence, nor can I even accept it as lazy writing. There is a reason why filmmakers tend to come back to these types of characters and it seems to be due to the fact that this is what audiences identify with. In other words, Hollywood does not write the stereotypes; they simply supply it to the people who have created them. Of course, because it serves such stereotypes, these films help to keep these beliefs alive, but these beliefs were already alive before the film. How? I admit that those of faith are more vulnerable to this type of criticism. After all, any retaliation would be seen as being hypocritical (by some). And I am sure that there are those who have had bad experiences with religion or church and have used this to fuel the rage. Has religion caused the wars and the genocide and the extreme disorder that people claim it has? Somewhat. Of course there have been wars on religion for centuries, but the root of those wars comes not from the subject people are fighting on, but the citizens involved in the fights and their lack of tolerance for others.
Still, there seems to be close to an obsession with targeting religious characters in fiction (and heavily biased non-fiction as well). Maybe you can help me understand why, because I do not know. Why is it that people of faith have gone from viewed as joyless creatures who do not stray from the rules to judgmental, hypocritical, and inherently evil people? Is it because the walls have been coming down and people are more willing to share their problems (no matter how you spin it, all who are imperfect humans are judgmental and hypocritical at times)? Is it supposed to show that “even religious” people have problems, too? Or are these stereotypes created and maintained because this is how society wishes to view people of faith?
*Photo courtesy of guardian.co.uk.