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by Sarah Salovaara
November 12, 2013 2:52 PM
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'Blood Brother' Director Steve Hoover Pens Open-Letter Addressing Christian Propaganda Accusations

"Blood Brother"

When "Blood Brother" premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, it was rapturously received by critics and audiences alike. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award, "Blood Brother" is director Steve Hoover's document of his wayward best friend, Rocky Braat, in his journey through India, as he is transformed by his work with HIV-infected youth. Though the film was--somewhat puzzlingly--not picked up by a major distributor, the production's partnership with Tugg has brought "Blood Brother" to over 50 cities.

Recently, however, it seems the good nature surrounding the documentary has been replaced with hostile accusations that Braat and Hoover were in the country on not so much a selfless mission, as a Christian one. In his takedown over at Doc Soup, Tom Roston cites Christopher Campbell's Nonfics review, which drew attention to the filmmakers' involvement with the Greater Pittsburgh Church of Christ: "Many will see 'Blood Brother' as primarily a film about Braat and about the kids. They’ll see him as a selfless, saintly character and the orphans as being in need. And maybe it won’t bother anyone to know that he’s basically a Christian missionary who has been converting the kids.”

Well, it appears Steve Hoover has had enough of the allegations tying his faith to filmmaking, and has taken to the film's website to address the controversy:

"I had no secret agenda."

"I’ve been surprised by the unfounded claim that Blood Brother is somehow secret evangelical propaganda. The idea that I made this film with some nefarious agenda would be funny to me if it wasn’t so potentially harmful.  Neither Rocky nor myself consider ourselves evangelicals. We are both Christians, but we have no interest in pushing intolerant political agendas or using legislation to enforce doctrine. Nor do I see filmmaking as a means to fill the pews or make converts.  I had no secret agenda.

Tom Roston of POV blog wrote an article I found particularly troubling, attempting to create the case that I deliberately disguised Rocky’s faith in the film.  This simply isn’t true.  Rocky’s faith is mentioned many times in the film, both in dialogue and in narration, yet Roston claims that the film’s approach to faith seems “secular.”  This may come from a frustration that Rocky doesn’t fit within a cookie-cutter cliché of a Republican, Evangelical, American Christian.  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."

Hoover nevertheless urges his audience to see the film, and decide for themselves.
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16 Comments

  • Jane Hannen | January 21, 2014 10:36 PMReply

    Until any skeptics, critics, or jealous haters clean lesions on an HIV infected child, how dare you bring up the "accusation" of religious agenda? Without an agenda we fail, regardless of the motive. I am not a Christian, but I recognize love and humanity far greater than anything I am capable of when I see it and am deeply humbled. There for the grace of GOD go I, and YOU, whoever your God is.

  • mario ducoudray | November 13, 2013 10:34 PMReply

    Cheers to Mr Parris!
    Mr. Roston is the one using tricks. He is either consciously or unconsciously bating confrontations that, all at once, demonize Evangelicalism while stirring up conflict where there is none. Mr Parris in a man who is projecting his own moral compass, a broken compass apparently, onto the filmmakers who are engaged in a selfless act that he knows nothing of. He is incapable of relating to a good deed - indeed. Moreover, his anti-humanist remarks lack emotional intelligence, gravitas, and depth. It seems clear that if he, Mr Roston, were ever in Rocky's position he would grab his GPS and run for the nearest exit.

  • Dan Parris | November 13, 2013 12:14 PMReply

    I find this whole thing very interesting. First, how the word "Evangelical" has become a bad thing and is the same as "Fundamentalist", which it is not. In Wikipedia, Evangelicalism is defined as a focus on conversion, the Bible, Jesus Death & Resurrection, and Activism. It is estimated it makes up 90 million people in the U.S. It is by no means a small sect and basically could include most Protestant denominations. Its basically plain old Christianity with overwhelming similarities to every other Christian viewpoint in the world.

    Second, I wish filmmakers who happened to be Christians would just say "Yeah, I am a Christian. That obviously affects my worldview and thus my career. Everyone's worldview affects what they do. Doesn't mean I was doing anything "nefarious". Would I like people to become Christians? Well, yes. I am one because I believe its true and that it matters. Watch my film and take my claims in it at face value. Decide for yourself. Hope it changes you in someway positive."

  • DJ | November 14, 2013 4:53 PM

    Maybe one's faith tradition -- in this case, Christian -- isn't so bullet-point reductive as you make it seem to be. Maybe there are far deeper levels of nuance here, and that how worldview forms identity, perspective, empathy, notions of beauty, darkness, virtue, redemption... can't be contained in some simplistic "I'm a ___ " remark. Shouldn't that be left to the realm of artmaking, anyhow? Not every Christian or religiously, ethnically or politically passionate is using creative expression as some sort of pedantic experiment. If they are, it's called propaganda, not imaginative, creative, dramatic vision. To your point, then, should every Black filmmaker have to stand up and say "my blackness affects everything I do" like it's some sort of apologetic to find a place at the table? The work should speak for itself.

  • Lia W. | November 13, 2013 3:52 AMReply

    It's sad that when people do good deeds it can't just be admired. It's sad that our world if full of cynical people who have the need not only to question a good deed but exploit it. If you see someone do good, do it too. How about that concept? If you see someone do good encourage it maybe they'll keep doing it. Don't we cheer our athletes who we know do things just for money? If someone were doing something to save your life would you thank them or wonder what there motives were? Let's just stand and cheer for those who do good deed's. Don't you think that we need more good deeds in this life?

  • Joe H. | November 12, 2013 9:46 PMReply

    Oh my god, why do "christian missionary" and "selfless and saintly" have to be oxymoronic? Did it not occur to some of these narrow-minded, intolerant critics that the fact that he is a Christian has perhaps positively influenced his desire to do good? Or is that something they don't understand? Get off your high-ass horses.

  • DJ | November 12, 2013 5:33 PMReply

    "But the notion that a documentary can be an island is just not true. Even if we are to take all of Hoover’s points on face value, it doesn’t mean that his faith isn’t all over that movie. The question is, have audiences been misled in a way that should be challenged?"

    Roston's statement is so obvious, and his reviews, patently absurd, that it's hard to believe he's been a journalist for as long as his credits suggest. Well, of course, any film, novel, painting, et al. reflect curatorial choices, biases, beliefs, thoughts and views of the world; that's inherent to any work of art. What seems to prick Roston's conscience -- besides his own ignorance of theological nuance and spectrum of belief, and myopia -- is the specter of that "shuddering fanaticism" coming to wreak havoc on unsuspecting audiences and cinephiles, as if they are as blind and ignorant as he seems to presume.

    Never mind that faith traditions, like Hoover's, can actually promote virtues like service and love. That couldn't possibly fit into Rolston's narrative of religious bigotry.

  • DL | November 12, 2013 6:58 PM

    How were the underlying issues and implications between evangelism and this film obvious though? It wasn't until Hoover wrote in his blog that he doesn't "consider" himself an evangelical for us to know that his belief system/evangelical church background wasn't a factor. I'm not arguing that there was an intentionally "nefarious agenda", but it seems pretty legitimate to me to ask that question when it would be pretty damn relevant to the subject material and context.

  • Christopher Campbell | November 12, 2013 3:36 PMReply

    Thank you for mentioning my review. I wasn't the one to make the connection to his church affiliation, though. And I think it's interesting that this has turned into claims that it is propaganda when in my review I asked if it was and said I wouldn't say so.

  • DL | November 18, 2013 3:36 AM

    I find myself a few days late to reply to this, but after reading it, I've discovered there isn't much to respond to. It's difficult to have discourse with someone who's main tactic is labeling ignorance and bigotry on you without justification. And you also talk down on believing what is read, so then I suppose I shouldn't believe what the church writes on their own website about evangelism? I'm almost tempted to ask you what other sources you attain your information in the world, but then again, I've pretty much had my fill of insults and name-calling.

  • kim daniels | November 14, 2013 4:58 PM

    Christopher, yes dude, I know you attributed it with an asterisk. I get it. But you stated someone's claim as fact. It's like saying "I went to the mall the other day and overheard someone talking about Obama being Kenyan" and then printing "maybe it doesn't bother anyone that Obama is probably not American-born but actually Kenyan." So I suppose it is an issue of semantics/bad writing. I think you could have more clear as to the issue you were actually exploring. BECAUSE DL so beautifully illustrates how people believe what they read.
    DL said : "First of all, in Roston's article, he did do some research into the actual church and belief systems that Hoover and Rocky were involved with."
    Indeed Roston did do research, and despite his research he calls the church evangelical. It is not an evangelical church. So i'm not quite sure why he labeled it as such. Hence my comment on general ignorance about religion -- DL, you're right up in there :)
    "I believe there are many knowledgeable, rational people who would challenge your notion that a negative perception of Christian evangelicals (especially of the same type as Hoover's church) is one simply of ignorance." Alright, I guess Muslims are bad too. (that's a joke)

    Maybe it is not a question of ignorance, but of bigotry.

    In any case, I stand by the "general ignorance" claim. It is a problem in reporting all the time. People are so emotional about relgion...

  • Christopher Campbell | November 13, 2013 12:27 AM

    Kim, you say the asterisk notation doesn't have attribution but it does at the bottom of the review, where I link to a profile on Rocky written prior to the film which claims that he has, in more favorable language, converted teens to Christianity. Which whatever, I have no issue with that nor with Christians. I just found it odd when it was brought to my attention that it was obscured from the film and so I brought it up. I have had no criticism with the Christianity, only the way the film feels like it's missing things. Not the holiness but the hole-i-ness, as in the holes in its story.

  • DL | November 12, 2013 7:32 PM

    Kim, I know you are addressing Christopher and his article, but I would like to address your point about assumptions regarding Christianity and religion. First of all, in Roston's article, he did do some research into the actual church and belief systems that Hoover and Rocky were involved with. So right away, I don't think he was making assumptions as much as reporting specific ideals they were surrounded by.

    Secondly, what "general ignorance" are you referring to? I believe there are many knowledgeable, rational people who would challenge your notion that a negative perception of Christian evangelicals (especially of the same type as Hoover's church) is one simply of ignorance.

  • kim daniels | November 12, 2013 6:50 PM

    Christopher, I'm curious about your comment here because when I read your review I thought this statement was pretty bold : "And maybe it won’t bother anyone to know that he’s basically a Christian missionary who has been converting the kids*." Even though you indicate notation with an asterisk, you do not attribute this idea to anything but seem to acknowledge it as a forgone conclusion.

    I know you criticize the film for other reasons, but if the idea that there could have been some hidden agenda behind the story (which, IMHO, was a very lovely portrait of a person finding community and family) did you not find it necessary to qualify a statement that claims the main character is basically a christian missionary converting unsuspecting innocent children and suggests that the film may be an extension of that 'mission' (even though you say it is not in the following graph)?

    The most interesting part of this whole discussion is the general ignorance about religion and assumptions about christianity. (full disclosure: coming from the bible belt of so cal where I was criticized for growing up catholic, I'm generally not a fan of non-denomination christian churches, though I try to put that bias aside when I'm meeting someone of that faith. so I understand this negative feeling about christianity)

    It seems that these recent posts have been happy to discredit the film because of the filmmaker's faith. Tom Roston even calls them evangelicals -- which is so funny if you know anything about different segments of christianity. What I do know is that the words evangelical and born-again are tossed around to identify a group of people who will damn you to hell if you do not agree with their beliefs.

    Okay, I'm rambling. I guess my point is that as a reviewer why did you not feel a little more responsibility when commenting on something like your perception of a religious agenda. Criticize the film-making any way you want. Call it vague storytelling. But the coded language around faith only serves to betray your own biases while putting an undue burden on a good film that tells an important story.

  • Paul | November 12, 2013 3:17 PMReply

    Tom Roston's rambling article is deeply offensive and paranoid. He's essentially in the boots of an SS trooper demanding papers. Enough said.

  • Jesse Phillips | November 12, 2013 3:17 PMReply

    It sounds like the critics are conflating selfless, unconditional love with the Christian religion. That gives far too much credit to contemporary Christians and not enough credit to people who just want to do good.