In a world where superhero movies rake in hundreds of millions at the box office, a film that’s made $12.7 million so far might not seem like news. But when that movie is a documentary about the late Fred Rogers, it’s news indeed.
Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? has become one of the surprise hits of the summer. Admittedly, the numbers here aren’t exactly going to fuel movie moguls’ bonuses this quarter. But The Atlantic’s David Sims reports that this soft-spoken doc continues to gain theatrical traction, “expanding to hundreds more screens every week.”
Sims isn’t the only person writing about this film’s unlikely success. Many note that in our divided, partisan age, this portrait of a gentle, caring man seems like the balm we didn’t know we needed. New York Times contributor David Brooks writes, “The power is in Rogers’s radical kindness at a time when public kindness is scarce. It’s as if the pressure of living in a time such as ours gets released in that theater as we’re reminded that, oh yes, that’s how people can be.”
Another feel-good story played out in our newsfeeds and on TV screens this week too: the rescue of a 12-member Thai soccer team trapped in a cave by rising waters before being rescued by Navy SEALs. Not surprisingly, movie-making gears are already turning to bring this harrowing tale to the big screen.
What might be surprising, however, is the company set to tell that story: PureFlix, the Christian production company behind the God’s Not Dead franchise. CEO Michael Scott spent several days at the rescue site, and he told The Hollywood Reporter that the film—which will reportedly have a budget between $30 and $60 million—will be released by PureFlix’s mainstream Pinnacle Peak production company. “It’s not necessary to make this a Christian film, just an inspirational one,” Scott said.
Elsewhere in behind-the-scenes movie news this week, Pixar veteran Peter Doctor was named as the animation company’s Chief Creative Officer following the departure of John Lasseter amid allegations of sexual harassment. Relevant notes that Doctor has been pretty open about his Christian faith in the past, quoting a 2009 interview with Christianity Today in which Doctor talked about how his convictions quietly inform his moviemaking approach. “I don’t think people in any way, shape or form like to be lectured to,” he said. “When people go to a movie, they want to see some sort of experience of themselves on the screen. They don’t come to be taught. So in that sense, and in terms of any sort of beliefs, I don’t want to feel as though I’m ever lecturing or putting an agenda forth.”
And we’re not quite done with entertainment-and-faith stories yet. Justin Bieber announced his engagement to Hailey Baldwin (daughter of Stephen Baldwin) on Instagram this week. Bieber wrote, “I promise to lead our family with honor and integrity letting Jesus through his Holy Spirit guide us in everything we do and every decision we make. My heart is COMPLETELY and FULLY YOURS and I will ALWAYS put you first! … Gods timing really is literally perfect, we got engaged on the seventh day of the seventh month, the number seven is the number of spiritual perfection, it’s true GOOGLE IT! Isn’t that nuts?”
Meanwhile, Netflix hasn’t had the best week. The online video service has come under fire for streaming an Argentinian film that allegedly contains a scene that could be classified as child pornography, according to Fox News. And many conservatives are concerned about an upcoming animated series on Netflix called Super Drags, about (as its title suggests) superheroes in drag. About 20,000 people have thus far signed a Citizen Go petition launched by the Christian Film and Television Commission to keep the show from being streamed. Finally, the most recent episode of comedian Michelle Wolf’s Netflix show, The Break with Michelle Wolf, offered a “Salute to Abortions.” No word on whether those controversies have anything to do with Netflix’s decision to pull the plug on written reviews of its content by users.
Also in hot water this week: Laura Ingalls Wilder. Yes, that Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote Little House on the Prairie. The Association for Library Service to Children has decided to change the name of its former Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award due to allegations of Wilder harboring “stereotypical attitudes” about other races.
Some beg to differ. Writing for The Federalist, Joy Pullmann says the racial conflicts that Wilder wrote about (mostly between pioneers and Native Americans), “are rather remarkable examples of two sides of a conflict that both have very good reasons to suspect the other and nonetheless manage not to escalate those worries and premonitions into crimes such as theft, rape, and murder.”
Many teens these days, however, aren’t reading Little House on the Prairie. Instead, they’re fixated on dystopian fiction because, apparently, it “seems pretty real—and that’s why they like it.” And while we’re on the topic of books, Christianity Today reviewed Douglas E. Cowan’s book America’s Dark Theologian: The Religious Imagination of Stephen King. Book reviewer David Zahl observes, “While it’s true that organized religion seldom comes off well in his books, King handles the Christian faith itself in a myriad of ways—as the motivator for bravery just as often as cruelty, a reservoir of strength as well as a shield for cowardice.”
Speaking of horror, I’ll end with this. If you’ve ever experienced the momentary terror of dropping your smartphone and watching it plunge precipitously to the pavement (“NOOOOOOOO!!!!!), you’ll be pleased to know that the smartphone “airbag”—which deploys during a drop—is now a thing. Then again, since your high-tech smartphone is likely snooping on you in all kinds of disturbing ways, maybe dropping it on the concrete wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.