Capra’s Revenge

Sociologist Peter Berger once noted that if India is the most religious nation on earth and Sweden the most irreligious, that would make America a nation of Indians governed by Swedes. A lot of people tend to view Hollywood as a decadent bastion of irreligious Swedes controlling our culture’s entertainment industry. But this year’s Academy Awards while a mixed bag seems to have let in a few Indians in the form of Oscar-capturing films with morally inspiring messages. In fact, the awards could have been called "the revenge of Frank Capra." In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, the former Hollywood titan described what caused him to quit the business 25 years ago. Capra railed against what he called "the hedonists, the homosexuals . . . the God-haters, the quick buck artists who substituted shock for talent." These, wrote Capra, cried out: "Shake em! Rattle em! God is dead. . . . Emancipate our films from morality . . . [down] with the good in man. Dredge up his evil!" Given that Capra wrote these words a quarter of a century ago when films were comparatively tame, his words today sound uncannily prophetic. Capra would be pleased with several of this year’s winners. Braveheart, the stirring depiction of thirteenth-century freedom fighter William Wallace, captured an armful of Oscars including Best Picture. The film stands in stark contrast to the amoral glorification of sex and violence in many of the year’s forgettable films. Braveheart depicts a Christian view of good and evil, where high moral behavior appears heroic and immoral behavior shameful. While the film rightly earns an "R" rating for its graphic depictions of battle, the violence takes place within a proper moral and historical context: a context that celebrates the ultimate triumph of good over evil. It’s the kind of film Frank Capra would have voted for. On the other hand, Hal Hinson, media critic for the Washington Post, turned thumbs down at this year’s Academy Awards, calling it "the most political in the 68-year history of the awards." Why is that? Because, according to Hinson, the awards were nothing less than a cynical attempt to "inoculate the business from another season of criticism." Pandering to the concerns of the religious right, no doubt. Refreshingly, to a surprising degree the judges seemed to have ignored the pundits and considered Capra’s maxim: "Movies should be a positive expression that there is hope, love, mercy, justice, and charity. . . . It is the filmmaker’s responsibility to emphasize the positive qualities of humanity by showing the triumph of the individual over adversities." It’s a message that resounds at the box office. The G-rated film Toy Story, for example, made 24 times as much money as the extremely tawdry Showgirls, rated NC-17. No less than seven of last year’s ten highest-grossing movies were rated either G or PG. Read on to learn about another Oscar-winning film, Dead Man Walking, which packs a powerful Christian message of repentance and forgiveness. It just may be that Hollywood is beginning to get the message: the Indians are coming.


Chuck Colson


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