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'October Baby' Tells A Story Hollywood Wouldn't
October Baby tells the story of 19-year-old Hannah, a first-year college student, who leaves home on a search for her birth mother. In many ways, it's a Hollywood-style road trip movie dealing with questions of identity, but at the movie's core is also a vigorous message about abortion.
In one scene, Hannah tracks down a nurse who worked at the health clinic where her birth mother had sought an abortion — one that failed when Hannah was born prematurely.
Voice trembling, the woman tearfully tells Hannah, "When you hear something enough times, somehow you start to believe it. It was tissue, that's what they told us. It was tissue that couldn't survive. Nonviable tissue."
October Baby has been endorsed by conservative groups including Focus on the Family, and it's just the latest addition to a genre of movies with Christian themes that has exploded recently. One film, Courageous, dealt with fatherhood, and it became the top-selling DVD earlier this year.
Director Jon Erwin helped with that film, and he also co-directed October Baby with his brother Andrew. He tells Morning Edition's David Greene why he thinks Christian films are resonating.
"No. 1," Erwin says, "I think that the values that we hold dear as Christians are immensely appealing — things like sacrifice and virtue and honor and destiny and things like that. ... I think when they're presented correctly, they're appealing to everybody."
Erwin says another reason is that Christians are again engaging with the arts as a faith community.
"If you think about art and faith, there was a time that Michelangelo worked for the church," Erwin says. "And there's been this bond and this link between art and faith, and somehow, I believe that in the past few decades, we've lost that."
Erwin sees re-engaging with the arts as a way Christians can reach people and — because he believes the values being presented are good — as an effort that can only benefit people's lives.
An Alternative To Hollywood
Erwin hasn't found much success working with Hollywood. When he recently spoke at an October Baby screening at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., Erwin said so a little more bluntly, arguing that Christians didn't feel very welcome in Hollywood's movie community.
Erwin says October Baby is an entertaining film, but also one that makes you think — and he thinks pretty much everyone who rejected October Baby did so out of fear.
"I think a lot of the Hollywood studios were simply afraid to engage this issue and afraid that there wasn't an audience or whatever," Erwin says. "What we've seen with October Baby is there's a massive audience for this issue. There [are] a lot of people passionate about the sanctity-of-life issue."
The film is being marketed in some cases directly to churches that hold screenings around the country. While the timing of October Baby's release may suggest that the film is trying to raise social issues in an election year, Erwin says it wasn't intentional.
"We made the movie to be released last year," Erwin says, "but unfortunately we could not find distribution. ... I certainly didn't plan it that way, but if it works for a higher purpose, I guess that's great."
Having found an audience that Hollywood didn't expect the film could have — October Baby grossed $1.7 million in its opening weekend — Erwin says there could be a sort of culture war developing in moviemaking now, between those who feel welcome in Hollywood and those who have been drawn to movies like October Baby in the past few years.
"Certainly, a lot of the values that are portrayed in entertainment are not values that I was raised in," Erwin says. "I was raised in the South in a Christian home and family, and I can't speak to the whole Hollywood community. ... I do think as a rule, the aggregate product coming out of Hollywood is something that can be deeply offensive to people like myself, and I think Christians have sat back and we've complained a bit. And I think now we're realizing instead we need to engage, and we need to make quality work."
Another Perspective — From Inside Hollywood
Paul Bond covers the intersection of religion and film for The Hollywood Reporter. He says a new crop of Christian filmmakers is revisiting themes that captured audiences long ago.
"The popularity has always been there," Bond says. "If you recall back to The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, The Sound of Music — back in the '50s and '60s — these are some of the most profitable of all time, if you adjust for inflation, so the market has always been there."
Bond says Hollywood might have forgotten about that for a while, at least until 2004's The Passion of the Christ. The budget of that Mel Gibson-directed movie was $45 million, and it earned over $600 million.
Bond says that Hollywood is currently in a state of tension about representing Christianity.
"Some people in Hollywood think that they represent the mainstream," Bond says, "and there [are] other people in Hollywood who know that they don't represent the mainstream. It's not a monolithic community."
Bond acknowledges Hollywood's reputation as being very liberal.
"If you dissect the political messages in most Hollywood films where there is a political message," Bond says, "it's a left-leaning political message. Look at all the children's films, for example, where the rich guy is always the bad guy, where the environment is always being despoiled by the American military or the American rich guy, and audiences aren't stupid — they see these messages in there."
So, on one hand, many Hollywood moviemakers prefer left-leaning messages. But Bond says Hollywood hasn't missed what's happening with Christian films — and executives are seeing dollar signs. Both Fox and Sony have already set up separate divisions to produce Christian films.
"More and more, Hollywood is not shutting the door down on these Christian films, because they see that the profit margin is there," Bond says. "And push comes to shove, they're still making a lot more money on Hunger Games and Twilight — but they do recognize there's a great profit margin on these small Christian films where you can make them for a couple million and they bring in $20 million. That example right there is 10 times your production budget — and that's almost unheard of in Hollywood."
As Bond puts it, Hollywood doesn't like to leave money on the table, so he says to expect a lot more Christian films coming to theaters soon.