The announcement of this year’s Academy Awards nominations always brings with it the usual debates. Who surprised? (Straight Outta Compton!) Who got snubbed? (Ridley Scott!)
Momentum. Controversy. Favourite. Underdog. Every year, all of these words are used to argue about the Academy’s picks. In fact, I’m even sure that I’ll address these issues as time draws nearer to the eventual opening of the envelopes.
Though really, the question for the Church today is something different…
“Should we care?”
Most people give a resounding ‘No!’ to this issue. After all, the Oscars is really nothing more than an opportunity for Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Brie Larson to gear up in Versace and Prada and walk the red carpet. It seems to be frivolous fluff. (See Globes, Golden) Besides, they haven’t seen the other movies anyways.
As a church, however, I don’t think we should be so quick to tune out.
Although the Academy has always been accused of being ‘out of touch’, the films that win (and are even nominated) demonstrate themselves to be cultural touch points. Because everything is always a product of its own time, we learn a lot about the worldview and values of our culture from the stories it feels the need to tell. Films like The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Revenant are films which speak our moment in time (even if they’re not set in it). For the Church at large to ignore this fact is to miss an opportunity to engage Hollywood on their turf.
Art is a doorway to a culture. The Apostle Paul knew that and would study the poetry and art of a city upon his arrival. (Lest we forget the statue to the ‘Unknown god’ in Acts 17) As Christians, we have been called into our world to speak hope in a relevant manner with humble hearts. We don’t always like the messages we hear from the cinema–but that doesn’t make them less important. How can we truly speak the Kingdom of God into a culture if we aren’t willing to listen to them first? (After all, Karl Barth once said that the best theologians are the ones that “have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.”)
At the same time, I also think that the answer to our question about the Oscars can also be ‘No’ as well. (Though maybe not for the reason you’d expect.) The truth is that, as important as it is to engage the stories of our dominant culture, it doesn’t hold a candle to the truth of the stories of those in our nearest proximity and community. In other words, although understanding the theological values inherent within The Martian and Room is a healthy exercise of the mind, the stories that matter most are the ones from the people we know. To contemporize the Gospel, we must first engage our own world. The values in our area may be entirely different than those that are revealed in this year’s Oscar race.
Wrestling with the texts of those worthy of even being mentioned with the phrase “Best Picture Nominee” needs to be vital exercise within the church if it is to stay relevant. Still, we also can’t assume they reflect the views of everyone we know.
And seriously, what does Ridley Scott have to do to get a win for directing? Not even for Gladiator? Throw him a bone, people…