Once again, the Disney-owned broadcast network is pushing the envelope in offending viewers of faith.
In recent years, the Bible has become big business. The success of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s History Channel mini-series The Bible and their big-screen movie Son of God has sparked a renewed interest in Hollywood in producing material aimed at the “Christian demographic.”
Of course, film and television dramatizations of Bible stories are nothing new. As far back as the 1920s, big-screen adaptations of the Bible was popular subjects for film; while in the 1950s, Biblical epics were as popular a film genre as comic-book superheroes are today.
But despite the fact that the entire reason studios are now making Bible-based programming is supposedly to appeal to Christians, most so-called “Biblical” movies and TV shows are utterly tone-deaf and grossly offensiveto that group. Christians hold the Bible as sacred, and do not appreciate seeing it degraded to just another sex-and-gore-slathered soap opera. Yet, from Darren Aronofsky’s 2014 film Noah (replete with a murderous Noah and stone Transformers), to CBS’ current “comedy” Angel from Hell and Fox’s upcoming glorification of the Devil, Lucifer, current media creators seemingly have no concept of how to treat Biblical material respectfully and with integrity.
Case in point: ABC’s upcoming mini-series Of Kings and Prophets. Based on the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Samuel, the mini-series will tell the stories of the birth of the prophet Samuel, the rise of King Saul, and the calling of David, his fight with Goliath, replacement of Saul as king, and adultery with Bathsheba. As The Hollywood Reporter announced recently, the program “reveals the kinds graphic sex scenes typically unwelcome on broadcast television.” Boasted the mini-series’ showrunner Chris Brancato, “These stories are violent and sex-drenched. We’re going to go as far as we can…we’ll be fighting with broadcast standards and practices.” Some of the content will be so explicit, Brancato said, that it may not even air on television, but will only be available online, where there are fewer restrictions.
Amazingly, while creating a so-called “Biblical” story reveling in sex and gore, Brancato also claimed the show would be “tasteful,” and that none of the sex or violence displayed is gratuitous. This is difficult to reconcile with his gleeful statements about “fighting with standards and practices,” or his joy at discussing the “violent, sex-drenched” nature of the mini-series.
Like many another “Biblical” program of recent times, the point of the Bible’s stories is almost comically missed by Of Kings and Prophets’ producers and writers, the ABC network, and most of Hollywood – the fact that they serve as lessons in morality. These stories teach that sinful behavior has negative effects on individuals and society, and that God continues to walk with, care for, and love the Jewish people (in the Old Testament) and all people (in the New Testament). Those are the reasons such stories are still studied by Christians – indeed, the whole reason they’re included in the Christian Bible at all…not because they’re filled with salacious sex stories and graphic gore.
Yes, some Bible stories contain references to war and adultery; and certainly, some individuals in Biblical history exhibited bad personal behavior, just as some of America’s founding fathers did. But just as a story about Thomas Jefferson which focused solely on his sexual affairs and ownership of slaves, but ignored his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and role in the American Revolution, would be hopelessly unbalanced, grossly unfair, and miss the entire point of mentioning him, so too is a recounting of Biblical stories that focuses exclusively on its scandalous aspects. At that point, the tale ceases to be either Biblical morality or history, and becomes just a violent, prurient soap opera with a historical or fantasy setting, little more than Game of Thrones using Bible characters’ names.
It is especially tragic that such tripe is coming from ABC. The Disney-owned ABC network has been lauded for its sensitivity when creating dramas and comedies about other groups, such as African-Americans in Black-ish and Asians in Fresh Off the Boat. These programs, while occasionally dealing in mild stereotypes for humorous purposes, are rarely if ever openly offensive. But it is striking how insensitive the network – and offensive the program – is when it comes to dealing with Christian belief.
Indeeed, ABC has never been particularly sensitive to religious viewers. Witness the network’s 2006 TV movie The Ten Commandments, in which Moses was presented as a bloodthirsty lunatic who only imagines he hears God’s voice, or the network’s 2012 prime-time series Good Christian Bitches, which portrayed Bible-belt Christians as alcoholic, money-grubbing, sex-crazed hypocrites. It is unsurprising that ABC is continuing this trend with Of Kings and Prophets; but it is sad that Disney – which gains so much revenue from Christian audiences seeking family-friendly entertainment – is apparently okay with producing and promoting yet another TV series which deliberately offends viewers of faith.