Is Hollywood really the devil’s playground?: A Mormon screenwriter weighs in

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Cinco Paul, the co-writer of animated Hollywood hits such as Despicable Me (and its equally funny sequels), The Secret Life of Pets, and The Lorax, weighs in here in a fine guest post about one of the questions he’s often asked by Mormons–basically, is Hollywood the playground of Satan and his minions?

No, not really, he says. In fact, such questions may reveal more about the people asking them than they do about Hollywood.

Welcome, Cinco! — JKR

 

Cinco Paul

A guest post by Cinco Paul

I can almost always tell when the question’s coming, whether it’s in an interview, a Q&A session, or just casual conversation. The person asking is generally religious, and more often than not a fellow member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s usually some version of this:

“What’s it like working in Hollywood as a Mormon?”

In other words, how do you survive as a person of faith in a business as amoral and degrading and evil as the entertainment industry?

It’s a question that I’m always happy to answer, because it gives me an opportunity to tell the truth about my experience in Hollywood.

And here it is: my experience as a religious person has been almost unequivocally positive. I can’t speak to the experiences of others, but neither I nor my writing partner Ken have been subjected to any sort of discrimination because of our beliefs. Or been pressured to do something contrary to the teachings of our religion.

The truth is, the movie industry is just like any other industry, filled with a lot of people, some good and some bad.

Have I occasionally been lied to? Sure. Treated poorly? Of course. But I’ve had similar experiences at my other jobs, at school, and yes, even at church.

It’s true the movie and TV business has its share of Harvey Weinsteins. But thankfully my industry is finally leading the way in outing and condemning these sexual harassers and the horrible things they’ve done. And I hope that this sea change will spread to every other industry. Because this sort of behavior, sadly, is everywhere. Again, even at church.

(YouTube Screenshot)

Part of the prayer scene from “Despicable Me.”

 

I honestly have not seen Hollywood to be anti-religion. Both Despicable Me and Despicable Me 3 have scenes of the girls praying, and we never heard a single objection to that from anybody. My experience is that the reason there’s not a lot of depiction of religion in movies and TV shows is that everyone is terrified of getting it wrong and offending/angering religious people.

So it’s safer just not to go there. But I’m glad that some of my favorite movies and TV shows do—Jane the Virgin and Lady Bird are recent examples of great entertainment that includes religion as part of their characters’ lives.

I can understand where the questioners are coming from, though, because I think most of them were raised in a culture where Hollywood was vilified regularly and seen as the enemy. I’ve heard these attacks on my industry often, sometimes from the pulpit.

That sort of talk always reminds me of The Music Man. In that musical the con man Harold Hill descends upon River City, Iowa determined to sell them band instruments and uniforms (that actually will never materialize). But in order to do so he first picks something in town to attack—in this case, a pool table. He gets everyone in River City so riled up about the evils of this pool table that it’s easy to con them into buying the idea of a youth band as a solution.

So I say beware of anyone preaching about the evils of Hollywood—they are probably trying to sell you something.

In many ways I think the real issue with Hollywood for most religious people is more political than spiritual. Most creative people I know are more politically liberal, while the church members I know are conservative.

But I feel it’s wrong to make religion a part of this conflict. The truth is, the gospel is much bigger than that, so big that if we think it can be contained in one political party we’re probably only living half of it. I’ve always loved this quote from Dallin H. Oaks:

“As for me, I find some wisdom in liberalism, some wisdom in conservatism, and much truth in intellectualism—but I find no salvation in any of them.”

Also, this great observation from C.S. Lewis:

“You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.”

It’s true that a lot of movies contain sex and profanity and violence. I personally have chosen to include less of that sort of stuff in what I write, and I believe that people have every right to avoid entertainment that they find offensive, or that they feel drives away the Spirit. But the fact is those things are in our movies and TV shows because, like it or not, they are a part of life. And art reflects life. It’s not because moustache-twirling villainous studio executives, screenwriters, and directors are determined to corrupt our youth. And the sooner we move on from that simplistic notion, the better.

So I always try to disabuse people of the notion that Hollywood is satanic and out to get them. First of all, look at the movies that are being made. Look at the box office. Every year the top ten movies are almost always those targeted towards the family audience, a trend which has been going on now for decades.

And secondly, look at what movies are about. The core values of almost every movie are love, courage, honesty and integrity. Most tell stories of flawed characters trying to change and become better. Of good defeating evil. Of love turning bad people into better people (like a certain misanthropic villain who adopts three little girls). That’s the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So let’s not be the gullible citizens of River City, buying everything Harold Hill is selling. And let’s not be Harold Hills, either, demonizing one thing in order to sell something else. Hollywood is not evil. They are not the enemy.

However, that being said, I would like to publicly apologize for the minions. Sorry about that.


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