The blockbuster Selma actor with unflinching faith has a fresh vision for Christianity in film
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t disappointing [not to be nominated for an Academy Award for his work in Selma.] Not least because it’s Dr. King, and I personally just want to see him celebrated in every way possible, and, of course, the film is an extension of that.” -David Oyelowo
A lot of what you need to know about David Oyelowo can be gleaned from a brief, viral, almost instantly GIF-able clip from the 2015 Academy Awards.
On the heels of John Legend and Common’s rousing, staggering performance of Selma’s “Glory,” the cameras panned the Oscar crowd, who had leapt to their feet as one in spontaneous, rapturous applause.
The adulation was richly deserved,but one man stuck out in particular: Oyelowo, who starred in Selma as Martin Luther King Jr. He was seated near the front, suited in a smartly tailored, Cabernet-red tuxedo (which would land him at the top of Esquire’s list of best-dressed men of the Oscars the following morning), applauding while tears ran freely down his cheeks.
Even in our age of 24/7 celebrity coverage, in which a Google image search can turn up photos of Gwyneth Paltrow expressing every candid emotion known to man, the moment seemed purely human and vulnerable. The Oscars almost didn’t deserve it.
The reason the moment was so indicative of Oyelowo (pronunciation: O-yellow-wo), is that,in person, it is exactly how he comes across. He is put together, but authentic—impeccably collected and utterly personable.
Oyelowo is becoming well-known for his ability to play other people, but it’s almost as astonishing just how easily he inhabits his own skin.
Parting the Red Carpet
Oyelowo’s presence at the Oscars was notable for another reason. For most of the awards season, his blistering Selma performance was widely expected to net him the Oscar for Best Actor, so it was a bit of a scandal when he wasn’t even nominated (Neil Patrick Harris even mocked the Academy for the snub during his hosting gig).
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t disappointing,” Oyelowo says, with refreshing candor. “Not least because it’s Dr. King, and I personally just want to see him celebrated in every way possible, and, of course, the film is an extension of that…”
Regardless of what parents tell their children, books are routinely judged by their covers. Indeed, many book titles encapsulate a premise so obvious that the text itself seems superfluous. I’m talking about the literary equivalents of Hot Tub Time Machine or Aliens vs. Predator. I should know—I’m the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies.
I can envision a future when such books will pass from individual to individual via secret-Santa office parties. They’ll be good for a chuckle, and then not surface until the ensuing Christmas. Most of my colleagues assumed that I wrote this book to make political scientists laugh a little—and they would be partially right. And yet a funny thing happened while I crafted a satire about world politics and zombies: I learned about the virtue of seriousness.
To be clear, the zombies in my book are not metaphors for thuggish political discourse or symbols of brainless economic ideologies. I’m talking about the genuine article: ghouls rising from the grave to feast upon the living.
Why write a book about the threat posed by the living dead? Sure, the ratings of AMC’s The Walking Dead demonstrate their popular cachet, but international relations is Very Serious Business. There is no shortage of “real” threats to scare analysts: nuclear proliferation, terrorism, pandemics, financial instability, cyberwarfare. Why introduce an implausible, shuffling, stumbling creature that desires only braaaaiiiiiinnnnnnns into the mix?
The End of the World as We Know It
The premise started out innocently enough. Scanning the Web on a bright August day in 2009, I stumbled upon a serious paper that modeled zombies as representative of certain kinds of pathogens. The paper soberly concluded: “An outbreak of zombies infecting humans is likely to be disastrous, unless extremely aggressive tactics are employed against the undead. … A zombie outbreak is likely to lead to the collapse of civilization, unless it is dealt with quickly.”
The paper was entertaining and informative—but it lacked a political analysis. It failed to take into account variations in national responses, not to mention the cross-border coordination problems that an army of the undead would create. So I spent a few hours thinking about how various international-relations theories would respond to a zombie attack, wrote up a blog post intended to make a few colleagues giggle, and moved on.
The response to the post dragged me back in. A brilliant discussion thread emerged, with inspired comments tackling paradigms I had overlooked. At the next professional meeting I attended, more than one colleague told me that my post would be useful for teaching students. The more feedback I received, the more I realized that the average undergraduate knows a lot more about zombies than about world politics. A straight explanation of abstruse theoretical paradigms can cause a student’s mind to wander. Explaining realism, liberalism, or constructivism by way of references to Dawn of the Dead or Shaun of the Dead is much easier.
I’m not the only political scientist to recognize this fact. Major academic presses have recently published books that use everything from the literary canon to The Godfather to explain foreign affairs. Peer-reviewed scholarship has been published on international relations and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and the Harry Potter books. Wizards, vampires, aliens, and hobbits had been covered, but I could legitimately identify a “zombie gap” in the literature.
My motivations were not strictly pedagogical. I have been in too many brain-rotting seminar debates about whether someone should be labeled a “defensive realist” or a “neoliberal institutionalist.” I’ve read the works of too many scholars who throw around quotes from Kenneth Waltz’s Theory of International Politics as party apparatchiks must have done with Mao’s Little Red Book. I love my field—but I worry about its descent into scholasticism for its own sake. Applying international-relations theory to a zombie-infested world was a way of affectionately but satirically tweaking the field’s strictures.
But first I had to educate myself about the zombie genre, about which I knew little. I’ve never been a fan of horror movies—indeed, truth be told, my only childhood memory of a horror film was watching 10 minutes ofPoltergeist and then not sleeping that night. But I delved into the zombie canon, from the obvious highlights (George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, Max Brooks’s World War Z), to more obscure fare (Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, one of the funniest and most disgusting films ever made).
Armed with a knowledge of the undead that extended beyond Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, I sat down to write—and quickly hit a brick wall. My prose was clunky and ham-handed, full of obvious, unfunny jokes. It turns out that it’s hard to write about the living dead without drowning in puns. I drew attention to “gnawing problems with the literature” and declared my intention to “get at the meat of the problem.” I could feel the decaying corpse of Milton Berle elbowing me in the ribs. I sought advice from my editor, Chuck Myers, who wisely explained that my tone needed to be as deadpan as possible. Only by writing in a serious manner could the absurdity of the premise be revealed. Now the words began to flow, although it was etymologically impossible to root out all of the puns.
On the way toward completing the book, I encountered a series of intellectual surprises. For starters, I realized that zombies are a great synecdoche for a constellation of emerging threats. Even though it is relatively easy to define a zombie, the genre diverges widely on the capabilities of the living dead. In some films, like, say, Planet Terror, zombies possess enough intelligence to act like bioterrorists. In others, zombies are more like mindless but intuitive disease vectors. In this way, the living dead are the perfect 21st-century threat: They are not well understood by serious analysts, they possess protean capabilities, and the challenge they pose is very grave. (See what I mean about the puns?)
I looked at the literature on “zombielike events,” calamities akin to an army of reanimated, ravenous corpses. This meant researching the sociology of panic, the political economy of natural disasters, and the ways in which past epidemics have affected world politics. I was new to this scholarship—jumping into it gave me the same thrill of discovery I felt as a grad student.
In predicting possible outcomes, I embraced Rudra Sil and Peter Katzenstein’s concept of analytic eclecticism, which draws from multiple theoretical approaches to attack a policy problem. The standard international-relations paradigms have their uses, but practitioners within them tend to develop conceptual blinders about causal mechanisms that do not conform to their own model’s internal logic.
Thinking through the implications of a zombie attack, I came away with a more optimistic take on humanity and a more pessimistic take on my field. While traditional zombie narratives tend to end in apocalypse, most of the theoretical approaches I surveyed suggested vigorous policy responses should we be attacked by the living dead. Realists would push for a live-and-let-live arrangement between the undead and everyone else. Liberals would call for an imperfect but useful global governing body to regulate the undead—a World Zombie Organization. Constructivists would call for a robust, pluralistic security community dedicated to preventing new zombie outbreaks and socializing existing zombies into human society. Bureaucracies would very likely err in their initial responses, but they’d adapt.
Predictions such as those suggest that maybe, just maybe, the zombie canon’s dominant equation of zombies + feckless humans = postapocalyptic wasteland is perhaps overstated. That said, even these “optimistic” outcomes would be unmitigated disasters from the perspective of human security. In a world where zombies concentrate in the weakest countries—stronger states are better equipped to fend off the threat—billions of human beings would face an additional menace on top of disease, poverty, and the erosion of the rule of law.
As I thought through these various scenarios, it became clear that the ability of standard international-relations paradigms to adequately analyze threats is eroding. Most theories are state-centric, but interstate conflict is on the wane. Consider again the list of real-world threats above; almost none of them emanate from states. Neither terrorists nor hackers possess large swaths of territory, making retaliation difficult. Natural disasters like earthquakes or volcanoes do not possess “agency” as we understand the concept. Neither do diseases or melting glaciers.
The international-relations profession has always started with the state—and governments will continue to play a vital role in world politics. But the field has been slow to adapt to the plethora of asymmetric threats that we now face. Unless that changes, international-relations scholars will be hard-pressed to offer cogent policy responses to emerging threats, much less the living dead.
Combining satire and scholarship is a risky enterprise. I have no doubt that many readers will conclude that I failed miserably. On the other hand, if the book gets people who wouldn’t ordinarily care about world politics to laugh, and then think, then the royalties—I mean, the intellectual benefits—will vastly exceed the costs.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. His latest book, Theories of International Politics and Zombies, has just been published by Princeton University Press. Originally published as “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Zombies” in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Evangelicalism is a word religion. I’m a big fan of words, but even talking pictures aren’t fundamentally about words. Evangelical films over-explain, over-talk. They don’t trust the images to do the work.
I went to a screening of Woodlawn last Saturday. Directed by Birmingham brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin, the film tells the true story of revival among the players on the football team at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham during a racially tense period of the 1970s.
The film focuses on Tony Nathan, the tailback who takes the position from a white teammate and becomes a star. The real-life Tony Nathan went on to play at Alabama and for the Miami Dolphins.
It’s a moving story, with some high-pitched emotional scenes. The acting is good, especially Jon Voight as Bear Bryant, Nic Bishop as Woodlawn’s coach, Tandy Gerelds, and Caleb Castille who plays Nathan in his first film. Technically, Evangelical films have come a long way.
The large crowd at the screening cheered when Woodlawn scored a winning touchdown, shouted when Tony Nathan dodged a tackle, laughed at the punch lines. It was a very into-it crowd.
Yet I came away from the film dissatisfied, as I do from many films by Evangelicals. I think there are a number of reasons for that dissatisfaction, but at base the problem is theological (ain’t it always)…
Ralph Winter is a Hollywood film producer who has helped to produce blockbuster movies such as the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Star Trek series as well as “The Giver” and the first remake of “Planet of the Apes.”
Kudos for Larry Poland from Hollywood’s #1 weekly magazine, Variety. Subscribe today.
Despite his cheerful demeanor, Poland isn’t a Pollyanna about the gap separating media culture from evangelicals. There’s a reason he titled his recent book on the topic “Chasm: Crossing the Divide Between Hollywood and People of Faith.”
Hollywood and evangelical Christians don’t exactly have a harmonious history. So it’s always something of a jolt to be reminded that a group of the latter schedules regular prayers for specific showbiz leaders and media influencers — including, in what’s left of June, Warner Bros.’ Sue Kroll, FX CEO John Landgraf, actress Anna Kendrick, and the ubiquitous Kardashians.
The “prayer calendar” (and yes, it’s organized alphabetically) is just one of the innovations arising from Mastermedia Intl., which seeks to engage the entertainment industry and effect change through what amounts to constructive engagement. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the group is led by Larry Poland, who has spent the past 35 years conducting this sort of missionary work, although the mysterious tribe he oversees drives around in expensive cars and tosses around words like “synergistic.”
Having “flunked retirement two or three times,” Poland is again seeking to engineer a transition in day-to-day management, one that will position Mastermedia, he says, for the next 30 years. Yet whatever the organization’s future, its past and present under Poland has generally operated in stark contrast with Christian groups that pursue a more confrontational approach — using “anger strategies,” as Poland calls them, like boycotts and protests, which he considers counterproductive.
“I knew instinctively that was not the right way to go about it,” Poland says. “The best way to change content is not to scream and yell at the people who produce it.”
In such a polarized political environment, Poland’s attitude feels particularly refreshing, and it has helped keep doors open that might otherwise have been shut. Part of Mastermedia’s outreach has involved conducting corporate seminars, seeking to educate decision-makers about the spending power of the evangelical market and ways to address the faithful without casually or inadvertently insulting them.
In a truly post-Christian America, Christians find themselves ostracized, misunderstood, marginalized, and often the victims of seemingly unmerited and scathing accusations. It seems in today’s world, Christians are known more for what we’re against than what we’re for.But, the truth is Christians are some of the most giving people on the planet, committed to their families, churches, and communities. It’s true we’re far from perfect, but if most Christians are decentindividuals who strive to love and serve others, what went wrong?Phil Cooke is on a mission to show Christians how to fix our “branding” problem in America.
Phil Cooke is a writer, television producer, and media consultant based in Burbank, California, as well as a critic of some aspects of contemporary American and American-influenced Christian culture. He is a fundamentalist Christian and, as Scott McClellan of Collide Magazine wrote, “At times, Cooke may appear to be Christian media’s biggest critic but, as he is quick to point out, he criticizes because he loves.”
He is a long-time producer of nationally known religious and inspirational programming, and has worked for such clients as Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, The Salvation Army, Mercy Ships, The American Bible Society, and the YouVersion Bible App. Cooke produced Billy Graham’s most-seen program, “Starting Over,” which reached around 1.5 billion people in 200 countries in one day. Joel Osteen said, “Phil Cooke is one of the greatest communicators of our generation.”
During this teleseminar training call, you’ll discover:
What branding is, and what it isn’t
What happened to Christianity from a P.R. perspective
What branding and religion have in common
How to handle public opinion on the gay marriage issue
Why public perception is often received as reality and what to do about it
What Christians can do to help fix the branding (or perception) of Christianity in culture
To join Phil for this FREE webinar, register here.
What can we learn by examining only the first and final shot of a film?
This video plays the opening and closing shots of 55 films side-by-side. Some of the opening shots are strikingly similar to the final shots, while others are vastly different–both serving a purpose in communicating various themes.
Some show progress, some show decline, and some are simply impactful images used to begin and end a film.
Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.
Joseph Fiennes will play Liddell in a new movie filmed in China, co-written and directed by the Hong Kong director Stephen Shin with Canadian director Michael Parker. It will be distributed by the Hong Kong-based Alibaba Pictures, who this morning also announced that they are to back the fifth Mission Impossible film.
Chariots of Fire, which won four Oscars in 1982, starred Ian Charleson as Liddell, a devout Christian who had to choose between his sport and religious beliefs at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Months before the Olympics took place, Liddell had to drop his plans to enter his preferred 100m race because the heats took place on a Sunday. Instead, he trained for the 400m and succeeded in taking the gold medal for Great Britain.
An Unexpected Hero
The Independent reports that the Chinese-born Liddell is regarded as a hero in China, partly for his sporting prowess but also for his actions in the Japanese internship camp where he died aged 43. Liddell was thought to have organised the smuggling of food in to prisoners.
Born in China to missionary parents, he returned to that country after his Olympic victory to continue his parents’ work. [Where the Japanese invasion resulted in his capture.]…
With the success of “The Bible” TV series, and “Finding Jesus” on CNN, I’ve been getting plenty of inquires from people who want to get other Christian ideas picked up by a secular network. In many cases, they’re starting from the wrong perspective. The first step isn’t getting your show idea on a network. The first step is finding out what the network is interested in programming. With that in mind, here’s a few critical principles about how to get a secular network to look at your Christian program idea:
1) Start by looking for cultural events that would make networks more open to a Christian influenced program. For instance, a number of years ago, I realized the anniversary of William Wilberforce abolishing the slave trade in the British empire was about to happen. Since he was driven by his Christian faith, I pitched PBS on a one hour documentary on Wilberforce’s life. They loved the idea and not only did it get a national broadcast on PBS, but it was privately screened at the White House. So – what’s trending in the news right now that would make a network interested in your idea?
2) Think ahead. My friend, movie producer Ralph Winter says that making a big budget movie isn’t about what’s popular now. It’s about what will be popular 5 years from now, because that’s how long it takes to make a major movie. It’s really not much different with TV projects. So look into the future. Once “The Bible” series was successful, I received a ton of proposals to do something similar. Likewise, once Noah hit theaters, I had a bunch of Noah projects pitched to me. But they’d already been done and networks weren’t interested. The question is – What’s next?
An internationally known writer and speaker, Phil Cooke has actually produced media programming in nearly 50 countries around the world. In the process, has been shot at, survived two military coups, fallen out of a helicopter, and in Africa, been threatened with prison. And during that time – through his company Cooke Pictures in Burbank, California – he’s helped some of the largest nonprofit organizations and leaders in the world use the media to tell their story in a changing, disrupted culture.
Lifetime achievement award for humble swordsman and accomplished pirate
“Our hope is that this award not only inspires a new generation of culture-makers and faith builders to seek to master two-handed warfare, but also brings Iñigo the peace he’s sought since leaving the revenge business.” -GDS
by the Two Handed Warrior Staff
Iñigo Montoya,the original Two-Handed Warrior, was honored with the lifetime achievement award of ‘Chief Inspirator’ by twohandedwarriors.com at the THW awards banquet at the Gildor Hyatt-Regency last night. Inspired by the death of his father at the hands of Count Tyrone Rugen, his lifetime of study in search of revenge drove him to attain the level of ‘Master’ (and according to Goldman, even ‘Wizard’) of Sword-play with both his right hand and his left. After a brief period of unemployment in Greenland, Iñigo was able to overcome alcohol addiction with the help of his lifelong friend, Fessik the Giant, and return to the business of revenge.
In the employ of Man in Black, Inc., Iñigo led one of the more remarkable princess rescues of all time. William Goldman later adapted his exploits into a novel and film, The Princess Bride (1987), named by the Writer’s Guild of America as one of the 101 Greatest Screenplays ever written. Beautifully portrayed by Mandy Patinkin, the scene chronicling Iñigo’s successful assassination of Count Rugen is considered one of the Top 100 Movie Scenes of All-Time.
Later, Iñigo’s influence upon Gary David Stratton was key to the founding of TwoHandedWarriors.com and many other culturally influential institutions. In 2015, TwoHandedWarriors.com named Iñigo Montoya, ‘CHIEF INSPIRATOR’ for his work in inspiring two-handed warriors across Hollywood, Higher Education, and beyond. Senior Editor, Gary David Stratton, noted in his awards speech, “Our hope is that this award not only inspires a new generation of culture-makers and faith builders to seek to master two-handed warfare, but also brings Iñigo the peace he’s sought since leaving the revenge business.”
Inigo currently serves as Dread Pirate on the pirate ship Revenge, but plans an early retirement to join Fezzik, MIB founder, Wesley and his bride Buttercup in Patagonia. He can be reached on Twitter at @IAmInigoMontoya.
The numbers for women in Hollywood trail far behind the percentage of females in executive positions in other heavily male-dominated endeavors, including the military, tech, finance, government, science and engineering
In 2005, Diana Ossana was in the green room at the Venice Film Festival, elated. Brokeback Mountain, the film she’d shepherded into being after reading Annie Proulx’s short story in The New Yorker eight years earlier, had just won the Golden Lion, top prize at the festival.
Ossana, who optioned the story from Proulx, then co-wrote and produced the film starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, was standing next to its director, Ang Lee, basking in their success when, she says, George Clooney walked in. Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck also had been in the running for the Golden Lion.
“He walked right up to Ang, shook his hand and congratulated him,” Ossana says from her home in Tucson. After heartily congratulating Lee, Clooney looked right past Ossana, then moved on.
“I really was startled,” she says. “It was as if I wasn’t even in the room. Ang even commented on it afterward; it was that obvious.” Clooney did not respond to a request for comment.
Ossana had been fielding that kind of treatment since before the film’s inception. Without her writing partner, Larry McMurtry, she wasn’t taken seriously. During meetings with studio execs, at which she was often the only woman, men turned in surprise when she spoke.
“They would look at me as if, ‘Oh, she speaks!'” Ossana says. “These were very prominent, very well-known men. If I was any more specific, everyone would know exactly who I was talking about.”
Ossana later had to demand that studio executives recognize her with a producing credit on Brokeback, which she and McMurtry had to push through the system. And “when we set about to make the deal with the studio, I’m not certain why, but they said they would have preferred Larry to be a producer.” (He got an executive producer credit, she a producer credit.)
Women are not tapped for power jobs in Hollywood. Their numbers trail far behind the percentage of females in executive positions in other heavily male-dominated endeavors, including the military, tech, finance, government, science and engineering. In 2013, 1.9 percent of the directors of Hollywood’s 100 top-grossing films were female, according to a study conducted by USC researcher Stacy L. Smith. In 2011, women held 7.1 percent of U.S. military general and admiral posts, 20 percent of U.S. Senate seats and more than 20 percent of leadership roles at Twitter and Facebook — and both companies now face gender-discrimination lawsuits.
In the wake of the Sony email-hacking scandal, and following Patricia Arquette’s rallying cry at the Oscars, some well-known Hollywood figures are openly saying that an ugly bias grips the liberal, charitable, Democrat-dominated movie industry…
With production values and writing that far surpass the first two installments, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s passion project tackles perhaps its most captivating episode tonight. TV has never seen anything like it.