Most media consumers want more respectful portrayals of religion

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A significant majority of media consumers around the world want more accurate and respectful portrayals of faith and religion in entertainment and believe Hollywood often promotes negative “stereotypes,” a new study has found. 

A global study conducted by HarrisX in collaboration with the Faith and Media Initiative, which surveyed nearly 10,000 entertainment consumers across 11 countries, found that 68% of viewers worldwide believe it’s important to showcase diverse religious perspectives in TV and movies.

However, religious identity is seen as the least represented yet most sensationalized aspect of identity in entertainment. Eighty percent of respondents said they want to see the entertainment industry work to improve portrayals of faith to ensure accuracy and authenticity.

Among Americans, a staggering 69% of consumers feel that television and movies perpetuate religious stereotypes, a sentiment also felt by 63% of viewers globally.

Consumers also expressed a keen interest in seeing their religious identity portrayed on screen in ways that go beyond stereotypes and sensationalism. The study indicates a strong desire for content that fosters understanding and dialogue, with 61% believing that TV and movies can serve as platforms for conversations between different faiths. 

Furthermore, 59% report learning something new about another religion through entertainment, underscoring the medium’s educational potential.

Respondents suggested three key approaches for the entertainment industry to address these concerns: Developing more diverse characters and storylines that include a range of religious experiences, employing writers and creatives who share the religious backgrounds of the characters they portray, ensuring authenticity and consulting with religious experts to enhance the accuracy of faith-based content.

Brooke Zaugg, executive director of the Faith & Media Initiative, highlighted the global demand for accurate portrayals of faith and spirituality and called on the industry to embrace the audience. 

“This research shows there is an untapped market in entertainment media,” she said. “Across the globe, consumers are looking for more accurate portrayals of faith and spirituality. This isn’t about creating faith content, [but] rather adding faith fluency and diverse storylines to all types of TV and movies. We urge the entertainment industry to take notice of this enormous global audience; it’s not just good business but also a priceless opportunity to unify people when the world feels increasingly divided.”

In a 2023 interview with The Christian Post, author and pastor Voddie Baucham noted that Hollywood often portrays Christians in a manner that reflects the narrative it wants to promote, from the Bible-thumping evangelist to the cartoonish televangelist — stereotypes he outlined in his 2004 book, The Ever-Loving Truth: Can Faith Survive in a Post-Christian Culture?.

“Nothing has changed since then,” he said. “There are certain versions of Christianity that are seen as acceptable, and they are watered down, social gospel, food bank,  liberal political activist kind of versions of Christianity. These things have always been OK because they remove the offense of the Gospel. Once the offense of the Gospel is there, then all of a sudden, we’re outside the camp. These stereotypes are still there, and these stereotypes speak volumes as to the way that culture not only views us but wants to view us.”

In a recent interview with CP, Andy Erwin, the producer behind “Ordinary Angels” and “Jesus Revolution,” said the success of these films and the star power they attract are evidence of Hollywood’s awakening to the underserved faith community and desire to respectfully depict Christians in media.

“I think it’s really a moment in time where there’s been a group of individuals that have all been trying to work behind the scenes to tell stories of faith. But collectively, whether it’s through ‘The Chosen’ or ‘Sound of Freedom,’ or what we did with ‘Jesus Revolution,’ all of a sudden, it’s been legitimized,” he said. 

“We’re so grateful to have a partner in Lionsgate that has really invested so many resources into this community to tell stories that are mainstream relatable. So to have a two-time Oscar winner like Hillary Swank, to have Alan Ritchson, who’s one of the hottest actors on the planet right now, both telling a story of faith and doing it unapologetically — that’s what we’ve worked for, and it’s being heard by the industry. As we support these films in the theaters, there’s an opportunity for the movies to get bigger and bigger.”

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: [email protected]

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