BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.--After the phenomenal success of "The Passion of the Christ," the role of faith in Hollywood is talked about more frequently, taken more seriously and viewed more strategically.
"Raise Your Voice” director Sean McNamara. (New Line)
Though films like "The Passion," which retold Christ's suffering in agonizing detail and grossed more than $370 million domestically, are an anomaly, big-screen depictions of faith and religion are becoming more common.
Consider, for example, "Raise Your Voice," a new movie (releasing Friday) starring teen sensation Hilary Duff. Duff plays Terri Fletcher, a young Arizona girl with dreams of making music in Los Angeles. Her journey, as shown onscreen, takes her to church several times—where she finds true sanctuary from life's pressures—and is marked by a Celtic cross she treasures and wears around her neck.
"I think that faith is a big piece of a lot of people's lives," Sam Schreiber, the film's screenwriter, recently told a group of religion journalists in Beverly Hills. "It was nice to have a character for whom faith was simply a part of her life."
Sean McNamara, who directed the film, is a practicing Catholic. He attended Catholic school and grew up playing religious music, which he laced throughout the film.
He told journalists the incorporation of such music is not, and should not be construed as, a heavy-handed attempt to push religion. Rather, like Schreiber said, it's just a fact of people's existence.
McNamara also appreciated the fact that this "teen movie" would be able to accommodate such a vision.
"I read the script and I liked it," he said. "It was one of those where I go, 'I can't believe they're really going to make this.' Because it's not like the Hollywood films that you'd see today. Usually coming-of-age films are far more explicit."
"Raise Your Voice" is rated PG. Duff's character does nothing that would embarrass children or adults in the movie audience. What she does do is work hard to achieve her dreams.
"As she goes through her trials in the movie—of which there are many—she's got something she can lean on," Schreiber said of Duff's character.
Faith is "not going to do everything for you," he added. "You still have to work yourself, and to some degree, how things go for you depends on what you bring to the table."
And it seems that Hollywood is bringing more religion to the table these days.
"I think that faith plays a role in a lot of people's lives," Schreiber said, "and that Hollywood in general gives really short shrift to that."
Schreiber went on: "I think that in the wake of movies like 'The Passion' and stuff like that, you've seen a change in Hollywood where faith at one point was something that was kind of a no-go zone, and now it's got a little bit of cha-ching to it."
Schreiber, who is 34 and has a development deal with New Line Cinema, said incorporating religion into scripts won't do any harm, and it might possibly "do you some good."
"Whereas previously you might have steered away from it and said, 'Oh, why do we really need that scene in the church?' now you can say, 'OK, well, that's acceptable for that character.'"
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
The movie's official Web site is here.