For years, many Christian circles have held an “Us-vs-Them” mentality when it comes to Hollywood. The industry represents a kind of modern-day Nineveh that exports its secular culture and moral depravity across the globe.
But are “Christian” and “Hollywood” really antonyms?
Three JPCatholic professors and long-time Hollywood veterans shared their experiences of being a Christian in the film industry, while taking down some common misconceptions about the Entertainment Capital of the World. Check out their insights below:
Moral Challenges Are Not Unique to Hollywood
Acting professor and SAG member Gina Fricchione shared that in her 26 years as an actress in Hollywood, she has experienced her share of moral obstacles and challenges, but she doesn’t think any of those challenges differ from the rest of corporate America.
“It’s pretty much how you conduct yourself,” she says. Amoral industry workers are most likely to take advantage of those who let their guard down or seem naive, so she tells her acting students to “play the smart card” and always maintain a professional, intellectual demeanor – same as you would do in any other professional environment.
“It’s not the nightmare that worried mothers worry that it might be,” Professor Chris Riley assures. A Hollywood screenwriting veteran for 34 years, he has experienced first-hand both the rewards and challenges that working there can bring.
Professor Nathan Scoggins, who has been working in the Hollywood film industry since 2005, explains how being a Christian in Hollywood is very similar to being a Christian anywhere else: “Being called to live out Christian character means that there are certain things I can’t do ethically or morally,” he says. “I can’t be vicious or opportunistic. I can’t play the political games other people can. I can certainly hold my own in a negotiation and be tough on things that I don’t agree with, but I can’t gossip or backbite. At the end of the day, I have to remember that people are people.”
Don’t Shy Away From Truthful Stories
One of the biggest concerns Christians might have about working in Hollywood is having to produce stories with content that is not in line with their values. A tension can sometimes arise between furthering your career and sticking to your values.
“Because we are a storytelling profession, there’s that possibility that the content itself can become a place of conflict, a place of problem,” says Riley. “Only once in my career has it become the biggest issue, the issue that made it impossible to actually sign on and take the job.”
He believes that as Christians, we must be committed to telling stories that are truthful, even if the truth is sometimes hard to watch or talk about. For instance, the presence of profanity, sexuality, and violence doesn’t automatically void a film of moral value, and can sometimes provide an impactful reflection on the human experience.
“I grew up with a conservative, Christian hostility toward the treatment of [these issues] in film,” He says. “And over the years, I found that I don’t actually believe that anymore. So I believe in Jesus more than ever; I believe much, much less in Victorian prudishness.”
Pope Saint John Paul II even hints at this distinction between content and message, writing in his 1999 Letter to Artists: “Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.”
“I tend to deal more with the grittier realities of life,” Riley goes on. “That’s what I respond to in films. So I think the way I’ve tried to navigate those challenges is I’ve tried to first discern, ‘Is this just offending my prudishness, or is this an actual problem?’… Then I try to really look at what is true, what’s real, what’s honest, what’s courageous, what’s going to be of benefit to the audience.”
It’s important, he says, to always ask, “How much good can I do in a story I’m telling?”
Stay Rooted in Your Faith and Find Community
Professor Riley emphasizes the importance of staying close to Jesus throughout your journey no matter where you are, but especially when you are called to impact others in a place like Hollywood.
“I would say do the things that any follower of Jesus would do to make their faith strong and vibrant and real, which is to push beyond the form of things to the reality of actual friendship of God with Jesus,” he says. “Don’t go it alone.”
Professor Scoggins echoes this advice: “In addition to spiritual disciplines (personal prayer and reflection, time in the Scriptures), I would say that it’s all about community, community, community. L.A. is a lonely city, and the best anchor for us apart from Jesus Himself is the people around us who can encourage us, motivate us, keep us moving. Get connected to a church where you can find other like-minded people who can reach out to you, care for you, and help you however they can,” he recommends.
Christians Have a Special Opportunity in Hollywood
Despite the opposition to their values that Christians will inevitably face in Hollywood, Frichionne sees this as more of an opportunity than a challenge. “Don’t judge people in the industry,” she says. “Everyone has their own life story […] Love them as Christ would. When they see kindness, they associate Christians with good people.”
“Actors like to hear personal testimonies,” she continues. “[Many of them] have not been exposed to any kind of Christianity.”
Scoggins agrees: “I think the best part about being a Christian in Hollywood is being able to be part of a community that, on its best days, tries to be an encouraging, sustaining light in a city and a business that is often caught up in its own survival.”
“And, you know, it’s not a one-way street,” Riley adds. “I’ve received a lot of care and friendship from the people I work with.”
“I think of my colleagues as my neighbors, my moral equals,” he continues, “And I think of my role as loving and serving them and living out as true an image of Jesus as I can in the context of our work together, and leaving it to Jesus to change our lives and save our souls along the way.”
This article was written with contributions by Sam Hendrian and Amanda Valdovinos.