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The Snub of the Christ

By Chris Carpenter Producer - It was a film of great artistic merit. It was a film that generated more than $600 million dollars in box office receipts. It was a film that generated great interest in every corner of the globe. Most importantly, it was a film that changed and transformed thousands of lives.

But to the surprise of very few, “The Passion of the Christ” came away virtually empty last month when the nominations were announced for this year’s Academy Awards.

Many Conservative Christian groups are outraged. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does not care. It will likely remain silent on the matter. Some would argue that Mel Gibson’s cinematic masterpiece did receive Oscar nominations – three to be exact. But nods for make-up, cinematography, and original score, are essentially the same as receiving a gift basket of jams and jellies when others are driving away in a shiny new car.

I have heard from many people recently, everyday folks as well as people who work in the entertainment industry, who have said that they would have been shocked if it was nominated in any major categories. The general consensus was that the only red carpet Gibson or actor Jim Caviezel would be walking down on Sunday night will be in their own living rooms.

I guess I am an idealist at heart. In “The Passion of the Christ”, I saw a film that transcended anything Hollywood had produced in years, perhaps ever. Isn't that what the Academy honors -- films that stand out?

This was a movie that stood apart from the rest in so many ways. No other film has ever come as close to accurately portraying what Jesus Christ must have endured as this one did. With very few exceptions it stayed true to the four Gospels of the New Testament. One needs to look no further than the grandiose, biblically inaccurate musings of Martin Scorsese’s “Last Temptation of Christ” for galvanizing proof. “Temptation” received a nomination for Best Director in 1989 I might add.

With no other studio or distributor willing to touch the project, Gibson financed the “The Passion” himself with $35 million dollars of his own money. A risky proposition to say the least, the film generated more than $600 million dollars around the world. I dare say it is likely the biggest return on a personal investment in Hollywood history.

No other film has ever been made using the actual language (Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin) that was used during the time Jesus Christ walked on this earth. For that reason alone, you would think “The Passion” would receive an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film. Nope. Despite the use of two dead languages that did not serve as a barrier in the least for movie goers, the Academy looked the other way.

But perhaps the strongest evidence that “The Passion” was unparalleled and should have been nominated for one of the majors, is the overwhelmingly compelling evidence that this was a movie that changed people’s lives for the better.

While most motion pictures are nothing more than a two hour diversion filled with cinematic eye candy that leaves a viewer feeling entertained for a brief period, “The Passion” stirred reconciliation in estranged relationships that were thought to be lost, brought thousands to an understanding faith in Jesus Christ, and in one case, influenced a murderer to turn himself in to authorities. Not only are these firsts, they are miracles to many.

Admittedly, the film was a bloody depiction of the last hours in the life of Jesus Christ. I don’t agree, but can understand why some Jewish leaders say the film was anti-Semitic in the way it portrayed Jews during that era. But I keep coming back to the fact that this is the greatest story of all-time about the most influential person in history. Furthermore, it was made with such a high degree of craftsmanship and personal sacrifice. Caviezel was struck by lightning while preaching the Sermon on the Mount for crying out loud.

The Academy doesn’t care. On Oscar night, they will honor a motion picture for excellence for its portrayal of either a brilliant, eccentric millionaire, the author of a children’s classic, a legendary musician who struggled with drug addiction, two men having a mid-life crisis, or a washed up trainer bent on finding the next great fighter. These are all great movies worthy of praise. But they all fall short in having the cultural impact or relevance that the “The Passion” has.

Gibson’s portrayal of the final 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ re-energized America’s faith based community. Never has there been such a grass-roots effort to get believers and non-believers out to the movie theater. The movement did not go unnoticed as “The Passion” received a 2005 People’s Choice Award for favorite drama motion picture. A nice honor for sure, but it is not the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Actor.

Ultimately, the Academy’s exclusion of “The Passion” is not a snub of Mel Gibson, Jim Caviezel, or the movie itself. Instead, it is a clear message from Hollywood that it is turned off by people of faith.

Online blogger Joel Rosenberg, who operates an online Web journal, was quoted by the Religion News Service recently as saying, “(Hollywood) can’t even bring itself to consider a powerful, provocative film about the most influential person in mankind. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Well said.

In the future, filmmakers with strong Christian beliefs will continue to make amazingly provocative films of high quality about faith that will resonate with movie goers from all walks of life. Lives will be changed forever and people will go through life with a better sense of purpose and grace as a result. As usual, Hollywood will turn a deaf ear. In a broader context none of it will matter.

If you settle in on Sunday night to watch the broadcast, remember that Christ will always have His critics. But the only thing that really matters is that you have Christ.

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