Good Morals and Good Money

Tonight is the 20th Annual Movieguide® Faith & Values Awards Gala, where a film and a television episode will each be honoured with a Faith & Freedom Award for Promoting Positive American Values. These awards are “to encourage filmmakers to choose themes which will honor the values that have made America great.” These values are apparently “liberty, private property, the free market, patriotism, and limited government.” I’m not sure I support all these values, and I am a little uncomfortable with the appeal to nationalism – somehow I can’t see a foreign film doing well at these awards.

Promotion of films viewed as desirable by a special interest group is almost the opposite of censorship – instead of trying to stop the distribution of “bad” films, they are supporting the distribution of “good” films. Almost the opposite, because although Movieguide is not trying to stop the distribution of bad films like Man on a Ledge, they do discourage viewers from attending, as the film has “anti-capitalist elements and foul language.” However, they are not suggesting the government stop the distribution  – that would hardly be consistent with the notion of limited government. Nor are they off in a niche like much of the Christian film industry, isolated from the major companies. The nominees are:

“25 Hill” from team Cherokee Productions, “Captain America:  The First Avenger” from Paramount Pictures, “Coriolanus” from The Weinstein Co., “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” from Warner Bros. Pictures, and “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” from 20th Century Fox.

For television, the nominees are: the episode “Engaged” from NCIS of CBS, the “Indelible” episode from CSI:  NY of CBS, “KJB:  The Book that Changed the World” from BBC Two, “The Lost Valentine” from Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions, “Vietnam in HD, Part 1 and 2,” from The History Channel, and “Who Is Simon Miller?” from Procter & Gamble Productions and Walmart, which aired on NBC.

Movieguide makes one very strong argument in favour of its preferred film values: Films that have these values make more money than films that do not. On average, a movie scoring four stars from Movieguide earned $53.5 million while the a movie that scored just one star earned $10.6 million. This is not a new discovery. Micheal Medved’s 1993 book Hollywood vs. America noted that movies with lower ratings (G, PG) generally made more money than Restricted films.

Movie studios are businesses, so it seems odd that they would set out to sabotage their own profits. However,  Medved argues the that film business is largely controlled by businessmen who see themselves as avant-garde artists, along with a few genuine avant-garde. Rather than pander to sentiment and traditional values, they want to be edgy and daring. Problem is, most of the population doesn’t want that. And so censorship, in all its forms, becomes the battleground between what the public wants, and what the artists think they should have.

Some years ago I spoke in favour of the Ontario Film Review Board at a conference. In questions after, one film student accused me of supporting a system where film viewers can choose to avoid films that might promote notions the viewers don’t like. I agreed that I was supporting exactly that. The film student felt it was wrong for viewers to avoid films that might challenge their beliefs. He argued that art requires people to be challenged. Maybe that is what artists think, but much of the time we just want, as MovieGuide editor Ted Baehr says, “good to conquer evil, truth to triumph over falsehood, justice to prevail over injustice and true beauty to overcome ugliness.” Movies have the power to show us many possibilities: I like movies that show the possibilities of good.

By trc

Freelance writer, freelance editor, web consultant, and film studies scholar.

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