Ruling elites use overpowering force and violence to dominate a people. For the long term however, they also strive for cultural domination so that their rule comes to be seen as normal, natural, and inevitable. Over the centuries dominant Christianity has used systems of violence such as inquisitions, crusades, witch burnings, genocide and slavery to not only intimidate populations, but also to instill in them a worldview in which Christian dominance is accepted. In the 20th and now the 21st century, films have become one of the primary vehicles for actively promoting a Christian worldview, extolling certain people and behavior as virtuous and demonizing those deemed Other.
Although practically any movie in a Christian dominated society will refract a Christian worldview, some explicitly proselytize a Christian agenda (The Passion), others mirror a deeply held Christian world-view (movies about Christmas, saviors, and Armageddon), and still others provide a critical look at Christian institutions of power and wealth (Jimmy’s Hall, Spotlight). A final category of films presents alternative worldviews, offering a glimpse into other ways to understand and live in the world (Princess Monosuke, Samsara).
I recently watched the movies Jimmy’s Hall and Spotlight, two powerful movies that reminded me that films can be excellent discussion starters on the topic of Christian hegemony. Movies, especially those produced by Hollywood or its equivalents are always complex. But the best of them can reflect aspects of our experience and communities of resistance, help us see our world more clearly, and push us to ask critical questions about how we want to live together. These often are made in other countries reflecting worldviews that are quite divergent from the one taken so for granted in our mainstream society.
The movies on the following list reflect a wide range of relationships to dominant Christianity and a wide range of quality. Use your critical faculties to take what is useful from them and leave the rest. They are listed in alphabetical order. Please send me suggestions of other films to add to the list.
After Tiller (2013) Story of the doctors who, after the Christian motivated murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas, have fought to keep third-trimester abortions available to women in the US.
Still from After Tiller (2013)Amazing Grace (2006) William Wilberforce maneuvers his way through Parliament, working to end the British transatlantic slave trade.
American Indian Holocaust: When it’s all over I’ll Still be Indian (2000) This hard-hitting documentary reveals the link between Adolf Hitler’s treatment of German Jews and the U.S. government’s treatment of American Indians, depicts disturbing parallels between these two Holocausts and explores the historical, social and religious roots of America’s own “ethnic cleansing.”
An American Mosque (2014) Story of how a Muslim community in a rural area of California builds a mosque and when it is burned down in a hate crime, the community comes together to support its rebuilding.
Amistad (1997) About a 1839 mutiny of the enslaved Africans aboard a slave ship. Much of the story involves a court-room drama about the free man who led the revolt and economic and religious forces maintaining the slave trade.
Antonia’s Line (1995) Multigenerational story of a non-conformist Dutch woman’s life in her village.
As It Is in Heaven (2004) Story of a small Swedish town and the townspeople’s use of Christian values to subvert Christian dominance in their lives.
At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1991) Two U.S. missionary couples in Brazil end up destroying the indigenous people they are trying to save.
Band of Sisters (2014) Story of activist Catholic nuns in the U.S. over the last 60 years. Battle for the Minds—Documents the rise of fundamentalism in America’s largest Protestant denomination and the subsequent impact on women. (New Day Films)
Beloved (1998) Complex and moving story of the deep scars and trauma that slavery created in those enslaved.
Beyond Good and Evil: Children, Media & Violent Times (2003) Looks at how the portrayal by politicians, cartoons, and comic books of a cosmic battle between good and evil resolved by violence teaches children to dehumanize the enemy, justify their killing and condone the deaths of innocent civilians as collateral damage.
Black Robe (1991) Story of a Jesuit priest who travels across 17th century North America to bring Christianity to the Hurons.
Bonhoffer: Agent of Grace (2000) A bio-pic of the German Christian theologian who helped Jews escape Germany, was active in the anti-Nazi resistance, and was executed for plotting the overthrow of Nazism.
Still from But I’m a Cheerleader (2000)
But I’m a Cheerleader (2000) The story of a high school cheerleader who, when discovering that she hates kissing her boyfriend, concludes with her parents that she is a lesbian, prompting them to send her to camp to be rehabilitated.
Citizen Ruth (1996) The portrayal of a poor, young, pregnant White woman delivered by the criminal justice system into the hands of anti-abortion and pro-choice forces.
Cloud Atlas (2012) An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.
The Color Purple (1985) A poor Black young woman fights for her self-esteem when she is separated from her sister and forced into a brutal marriage.
Still from The Color Purple (1985)Constantine’s Sword (2008) James Carroll, the author of the book by the same name, takes the viewer through a history Christian anti-Semitism and ties that history to current fundamentalism in U.S. foreign policy.
Contradiction: A Question of Faith (2013) Jeremiah Camara travels the country examining the paradox of Black neighborhoods saturated with churches in the midst of poverty, deprivation and despondency to find if there is a correlation between high-praise and low-productivity.
The Crucible (1957) Film version of Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials in colonial New England.
Departures (2008) An unemployed Japanese cellist moves back to his village of origin to become a funeral profession, becoming a gatekeeper between life and death, between the departed and the family of the departed.
Elisabeth of Berlin (2008) The story of a Christian woman who was one of the only voices of resistance to the Nazis in the church.
Even the Rain (2010) When a Spanish film crew comes to Bolivia to shoot a film about Columbus because it is cheap they become involved in the Indigenous communities struggle over control of the city’s water system.
Still from Even the Rain (2010)
Follow Me Home (1996) Four young people of color drive across the country to paint a mural on the white house.
For the Bible Tells Me So (2007) A compassionate and insightful documentary about the contemporary face of the conflict between Christian fundamentalists and lesbians and gays.
Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action (2008) Looks at the burgeoning movement of spiritual activism around the planet, and the powerful personalities who are igniting it.
Full Circle (1993) Explores contemporary manifestations of women’s spirituality in the western world.
Gandhi (1982) The life of the lawyer who became the famed leader of the Indian revolt against the British rule through his philosophy of nonviolent protest.
God Loves Uganda (2013) An account of the American Evangelicals’ attempts to export their anti-gay beliefs in Uganda.
Still from God Loves Uganda (2013)
God on Our Side (2010) A look at the impact of Christian Zionism on the Middle East, particularly in Palestine/Israel.
Goddess Remembered (1989) documents ancient women-centered spirituality, linking the loss of these societies to current environmental crises.
The Golden Compass (2007) An orphaned girl lives in a mighty fantastical parallel universe in which a dogmatic theocracy called the Magisterium threatens to dominate the world. When her friend is kidnapped, she travels to the far North in an attempt to rescue him and rejoin her uncle.
The Handmaid’s Tale (1990) In a future dystopia and rightwing religious tyranny, a young woman is forced into sexual slavery on account of her now rare fertility.
Still from The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)
Heart of the Beholder (2005) Based on the true story of a family who opened the first videocassette rental stores in St. Louis but were subsequently ruined by a corrupt prosecutor who had been blackmailed by a religious group because the family refused to remove Martin Scorsese’s controversial film, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” from their stores.
Hearts Divided: Baptism and the Jews in the Third Reich also released as
Storm Troopers Of Christ (2008) During the Third Reich, German Jews to be sent to concentration camps and death camps were parsed from “Aryan” Germans mainly through their presumed racial heritage – as attested to, on their baptismal certificates, by their pastors. Simply by definition, people without baptismal records were in an “illegal” category amounting to state-imposed Christianity.
Hopi: Songs of the fourth World (1983) A documentary on the function of art and religion in Hopi culture and everyday life based on the symbolic planting and growing cycle of corn.
In God We Teach (2011) The story of a Kearny (NJ) high school student who secretly recorded his history teacher in class, and accused him of proselytizing. When the story hit The New York Times all hell broke loose.
In the Light of Reverence (2001) Tells the story of three indigenous communities and the sacred lands they struggle to protect: the Lakota of the Great Plains, the Hopi of the Four Corners area, and the Winnemem Wintu of northern California.
Inherit the Wind (1960) A defense attorney defends a schoolteacher for teaching about evolution in a small religious town.
Iron Jawed Angels (2004) Alice Paul and the women of the 1917 Women’s Suffrage movement fight for future generations right to vote and run for office.
Jesus Camp (2006) A documentary on kids who attend a summer camp hoping to become the next Billy Graham.
Jimmy’s Hall (2014) During the Depression, Jimmy Gralton returns home to Ireland from the US. Seeing the levels of poverty and oppression, the activist in him reawakens and he looks to re-open the dance hall that led to his deportation but he meets resistance from church and state.
Koyaanisqatsi (1982) A collection of expertly photographed phenomena with no conventional plot. The footage focuses on nature, humanity and the relationship between them.
La Ultima Cena (1976) a pious plantation owner during Cuba’s Spanish colonial period decides to recreate the Biblical Last Supper using twelve of the slaves working in his sugarcane fields, hoping to thus teach the slaves about Christianity.
Lagaan (2001) The people of a small village in Victorian India stake their future on a game of cricket against their ruthless British rulers.
The Lord is Not on Trial Here Today (2010) Tells the story of the case that established the separation between religion and public schools.
The Magdalene Sisters (2002) Three young Irish women struggle to maintain their spirits while they endure dehumanizing abuse as inmates of a Magdalene Sisters Asylum.
The Matrix (1999) and sequels. A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers. Heavily Christian themed savior story.
Still from The Matrix (1999)
Milagro Beanfield War (1988) Members of a small New Mexico town organize to oppose land development and save their water rights.
The Mission (1986) A Jesuit priest in 18th century Brazil tries to fight against the Portuguese slave trade.
Narnia (2005) and sequels. Four kids travel through a wardrobe to the land of Narnia and learn of their destiny to free it with the guidance of a Christ-like mystical lion.
The Nasty Girl (1990) A docudrama about a bright young German high school student who uncovers the Nazi collaboration of her fellow townspeople and faces their wrath.
Older Than America (2008) A woman’s haunting visions reveal a Catholic priest’s sinister plot to silence her mother from speaking the truth about the atrocities that took place at her Native American boarding school.
The Only Good Indian (2009) Set in Kansas during the early 1900s, a teen-aged Native American boy is taken from his family and forced to attend a distant Indian “training” school to assimilate into White society.
Our Spirits Don’t Speak English (2008) This documentary gives a voice to the countless Indian children forced through the boarding school system of the US government.
Still from Our Spirits Don’t Speak English (2008)
Philomena (2013) An Irish woman has her baby adopted out without her knowledge by the Abbey she lived in in the early 1950s and then decades later goes searching for her child.
Pilgrim’s Progress (2008) An allegory of the life of a believer on a journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.
Princess Monozuke (1997) Complex, non-eurocentric, non-binary story about power, violence, and ecological destruction and renewal.
Prisoner’s of a White God (2008) This documentary explicitly reveals undercover work of missionary agencies and individuals in the destruction of an ethnic group, the Akha people of South East Asia under the guise of bringing aid and salvation.
Quilombo (1984) Palmares is a 17th-century quilombo, a settlement of escaped slaves in northeast Brazil. This is the story of their culture and their resistance to Portuguese attacks.
Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) Three young native women are kidnapped by the Australian government and sent to boarding school but they escape and travel across Australia to return home.
Red Hook Summer (2012) A middle-class boy from Atlanta finds his worldview changed as he spends the summer with his deeply religious grandfather in the housing projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Still from Red Hook Summer (2012)
Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2006) The film explores a long line of degrading images of Arabs along the way offering devastating insights into the origin of these stereotypic images, their development at key points in US history, and why they matter so much today.
The Revisionaries (2012) The theory of evolution and a re-write of American history are caught in the crosshairs when an unabashed Creationist seeks re-election as chairman of America’s most influential Board of Education.
Romero (1989) A biography of the Salvadoran Archbishop who stood up for the poor against the ruling class and military.
Roots (1977) mini-series. A dramatization of author Alex Haley’s family line from ancestor Kunta Kinte’s enslavement to his descendants’ liberation.
The Ruling Class (1972) A satire of the British upper class about an earl who believes he is Jesus Christ.
Still from The Ruling Class (1972)
Saladin or El Naser Salah el Dine (1963) Story of how Saladdin, leader of the Muslim forces defeats the Crusaders and then subsequently faces another Christian crusade to retake Jerusalem.
Samsara (2011) A nonverbal, guided meditation, through powerful images the film illuminates the links between humanity and the rest of nature, showing how our life cycle mirrors the rhythm of the planet.
Sankofa (1993) A Black American fashion model on a photo shoot in Africa is spiritually transported back to a plantation in the West Indies where she experiences first-hand the physical and psychic horrors of chattel slavery, and eventually the redemptive power of community and rebellion as she becomes a member of a freedom-seeking Maroon colony.
Saved! (2004) When a girl attending a Christian high school becomes pregnant, she finds herself ostracized and demonized, as all of her former friends turn on her. She re-establishes community with the other outcasts at the school.
Scared Sacred (2004) Visiting the ‘Ground Zeros’ of the planet, the director unearths unforgettable stories of survival, ritual, and recovery.
The Scarlet Letter (1979 or 1995) Adaptation of Nathanial Hawthorne’s story of a young puritan woman who commits adultery and the reverend who is the baby’s father.
School Ties (1992) A story about what happens when Christian private school classmates find out that the football star on campus is Jewish.
Still from School Ties (1992)
Selling God (2009) a satirical perspective on the many absurdities that arise when the contemporary Evangelical movement collides with popular culture.
The Smith Family (2002) chronicles one family’s struggle to endure the physical and emotional trauma surrounding the death of a husband, father and pillar of the Mormon community. The wife’s life is shattered by the revelation of her husband’s homosexual infidelity, her resulting HIV infection, and condemnation by the church.
Spotlight (2015) Docudrama about how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (2003) On an isolated lake, an old monk lives on a small floating temple. The wise master has also a young boy with him who learns to become a monk. And we watch as seasons and years pass by.
Standing on Sacred Ground (2013) 8 part series. With ancient wisdom and modern courage, threatened indigenous cultures around the world protect their sacred lands for future generations from corporations, Christian groups, and government takeovers. The films expose threats to native peoples’ health, livelihood and cultural survival and highlights their struggles to defend their human rights and restore the environment in their sacred places.
The Tailenders (2005) Documents the efforts of the missionary group Global Recordings Network to use low-tech audio devices to evangelize indigenous communities facing economic crises caused by globalization (New Day Films)
Theologians Under Hitler (2005) Introduces the viewer to three of the greatest Christian scholars of the twentieth century, men who were also outspoken supporters of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
Unrepentent (2006) A documentary about the genocide of First Nations People in Canada and the coverup by the churches and the government.
When the Moors Ruled in Europe (2005) The eighth century Muslim invasion of the Iberian Pennisula was largely welcomed by the locals and rejuvenated the area with advanced technology, agriculture and a construction boom. This program describes these innovations and the subsequent period of war between Moors and Christians.
Still from When the Moors Rules Europe (2005)
Where the Spirit Lives (1989) A young Native Canadian fights to keep her culture and identity when she is abducted to a residential school.
Waiting for Armageddon (2009) America’s 50-million strong Evangelical community is convinced that the world’s future is foretold in Biblical prophecy – from the Rapture to the Battle of Armageddon. This film explores their world and looks at the politically powerful alliance between Evangelical Christians and Israel.