If you’ve been reading Criticwire recently, you’ll have noticed a series of articles about the documentary Blood Brother, which has grown into a larger discussion about how critics and filmmakers deal with the issue of religious faith. First, I asked why critics Tom Roston and Christopher Campbell zeroed in on the film’s failure to acknowledge the fact that director Steve Hoover and subject Rocky Braat, were members of the same Pittsburgh church, and wondered whether this was deliberately misleading or part of a larger phenomenon of Christian artists not wanting to make their faith to obscure their work.
Then, Christianity Today‘s chief film critic, Alissa Wilkinson, added her decidedly more informed perspective, bringing in the behavior of pop-music artists, some of whom cater to an explicitly Christian audience and some of whom are desperate not to be associated with it:
[O]n the one hand, there’s a whole market segment that will buy your record, go see your movie, etc., simply because you’re a Christian and there’s Jesus or at least strong Jesusy undertones in your record or film.
On the other hand, everyone sort of implicitly assumes that if you make a “Christian” product, it’s (a) just for Christians and (b) probably not very good quality, even if the message is by some standard or another stellar, because you don’t have to be very good to get people to buy it, and because the industry as a whole has had a fairly shoddy record over the past few decades when it comes to artistry, craftsmanship, innovation, and quality.
Now, Hoover has written his own response on Blood Brother‘s site, addressing what he refers to as “some complicated allegations.” Although it’s only fair that anyone who’s read Roston’s article read Hoover’s response in its entirety, in terms of the ongoing discussion, what’s more interesting is Hoover’s clear assertion that Blood Brother is not itself a work of religious activism and that Rocky Braat is not a saintly paradigm:
I understand why Roston might be tempted to group Rocky with certain vocal and very visible faith groups, but Rocky’s not that kind of Christian. His faith (among many complex motivations explored in the film) inspires him to love people in tangible ways, like cleaning the wounds and open sores of children with HIV with little regard for his own safety. That love isn’t some elaborate trick to get people to convert. When he takes a sick Hindu man to the hospital, there’s no expectation that the man will change his beliefs. Rocky cares for him because he needs care. Love is an end to itself.
This doesn’t necessarily answer the concern other critics have raised more generally that the film favors the story of a heroic individual over the institutions, be they churches or secular NGOs, that more broadly address the issue of African AIDS, which is an issue that has less to do with religion and more to do with dominant narrative structures. But that’s a different discussion than the one Criticwire has been fortunate to take part in the last several days, and perhaps one for another time or another film.