Facing the Hollywood Giants — and Winning

Facing the Hollywood Giants — and Winning

There was a girl named Alicia who said her dad had abandoned her and her siblings years ago, but he showed up for her brother’s wedding. When there was a break in the festivities, she and her sister took him to see Courageous. They were sitting in the theater watching the film and her dad began to cry. During the film’s climatic church scene, where men are urged to declare their commitment to become better husbands, fathers, and leaders, Alicia’s dad stood up alone in front of the whole theater in response to the film’s virtual altar call. Soon, other men stood up in front of their seats. Alicia and her sister began to cry. That moment, she said, was the beginning of a needed healing process for her entire family.

In Panama, 700 police officers gathered from across their nation to watch Courageous because they had heard so much about it. When they left the theater, they couldn’t stop talking about how they could follow the film’s call to action and sign a resolution to be men of honor. They said they could change Panama if government servants like them would operate in integrity.

There was a soldier who had served in Afghanistan. He’d gotten hooked on a pain medication that caused him and his family to fall quickly into a downward spiral. He watched Courageous then called his wife and said, “I have to do the courageous thing to save my family, so I’m checking myself into rehab. I now have hope.”

A man had blocked out of his mind that he had fathered a child out of wedlock when he was in college. Now decades later, after seeing Courageous, he realized he needed to reconnect with that child. “God wants to turn the hearts of children back to their fathers and fathers back to their children,” he said.

These are four of the over 320,000 Facebook posts written as a result of people, especially fathers, seeing the film Courageous and sharing their life-changing stories. After a successful four-month run in theaters last fall, Courageous was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc last week.

SENDING HOLLYWOOD A MESSAGE: 'Courageous' producer and Sherwood Pictures co-founder Stephen Kendrick.

Stephen Kendrick and his brother Alex, both ministers at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, are the filmmakers behind Courageous; the brothers co-wrote the script, Stephen produced, and Alex directed and starred in the film as police officer Adam Mitchell. The Kendricks, whose film company Sherwood Pictures previously produced such features as Facing the Giants and Fireproof, have become the Tyler Perrys of evangelical Christian movies, creating immensely popular films on a relatively small budget.

Courageous, in fact, was more successful than Fireproof in its first weekend, grossing $9 million ($2.2 million more than Fireproof), making it the No. 4 movie the week of its debut, and No. 1 if you take into account that the film opened against movies with three times as many screens as Courageous and budgets 20 times more than its $2 million production cost. The film went on to gross $34.5 million at the box office.

God Opening Doors

Stephen Kendrick can’t help but be pleased with the success of Courageous, but contrary to what some might think, he did not go on a wild spending frenzy or flaunt his success as a sign of his arrival in the big time. Instead, with each success he’s become more humble. Kendrick is quick to assign the credit for Sherwood Pictures’ good fortune to God’s answer to fervent prayer. From their first movie, Flywheel (2003), which was produced with $20,000 and ran successfully for six weeks at a single location in Albany; to 2006’s Facing the Giants, which was made for $100,000 and grossed $10 million; to 2008’s Fireproof — $500,000 budget, $33 million gross; and now Courageous, Stephen says it has been God who has opened doors.

Starting with the backing of their church of the movie ministry, and later the backing of Provident Films and TriStar Pictures, success still means giving back to God through supporting their church, their families, and others, with the aim of bringing attention to God’s message of hope.

Kendrick says their goal is to keep improving, and to a large degree they have made much headway in their efforts to do so. However, the stinging reviews of critics such as Rotten Tomatoes, the L.A. Times, and New York’s Village Voice hangs in the air. Stephen, in his customary humility, addresses the critics of Courageous this way: “People don’t need to be afraid of critics and criticism, because sometimes they are your best friends to help you realize how you can grow and how you can do better. When we have read reviews, whether on Rotten Tomatoes or Christian websites, and have seen consistent trends where different people are noticing the same things, then we know that we have to address those issues.”

At the same time, says Kendrick, some of the reviews were clearly anti-Christian anything, good or bad, or so far in leftfield that they did not bear much thought. However, one of the recurring criticisms of the film, from both secular and Christian reviewers, was that it was overly preachy. Kendrick doesn’t back away from that critique.

AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSE: In 'Courageous,' Ken Bevel portrays Nathan Hayes, a dedicated police officer trying to avoid the mistakes his absentee father made.

“Every movie preaches,” he says. “The religion of the world is externalized in their art, you look at James Cameron’s movie Avatar; he’s preaching a message about environmentalism and saving the earth. In our situation, when people know that we are Christians, they automatically are super hypersensitive for any kind of [religious] messages to be in the movie, especially when we have been didactic or use dialogue more than imagery to convey the message.”

The charge that the movie “unabashedly preaches to the choir” is right on target, Kendrick says.

“We do want to preach first to the choir, because the church doesn’t need to tell the world to get their marriages together if we don’t have our marriages together. We don’t apologize for it because we believe that God has led us in that direction. Our number one audience is the church. If you look at the way Jesus taught, he taught parables to the masses and the messages were embedded or hidden in the storyline, and then he taught by preaching, like the Sermon on the Mount, up front and overt to his audience. Our movies have been more like the latter. We’re not against doing the symbolic parable type movies, and if the Lord leads us that way, we’ll do it.”

Aiming for Eternal Fruit

Criticisms notwithstanding, overall audiences viewed Courageous as a life-changing film — not simply one that will prompt an emotional buzz and a superficial tear, but one that truly gives viewers, and especially men, something to think about in their personal lives.

And although Kendrick would love to see Hollywood take note of Sherwood Pictures’ success and begin producing more positive fare, his primary aim is to transform souls.

“Eternal fruit is our ultimate goal,” he says. “We pray for fruit that remains. Movies will come and go. Sending a message to Hollywood, or seeing Hollywood make more redemptive movies, those are nice secondary benefits. But our hope is that people will find a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.”

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Tweet your entries until Monday, January 30, 2012. We’ll randomly select THREE names from among our qualifying Twitter followers and notify the winners the next day. The odds of winning depend on the number of entries we receive. Though you’re welcome to retweet as many times as you’d like, there’s a limit of one contest entry per Twitter follower for the giveaway. Comments must be received by January 30, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. Central Time in order to qualify. The retail value of the DVD is $24.99. No purchase is necessary to enter or win, and the giveaway is void where prohibited.

When Good Husbands Cheat

Nicole Cleveland always thought her marriage would be over if her husband were unfaithful. But then it happened. In her new book, So He Cheated, Now What?, she examines the reasons for infidelity and advises women that there’s still hope for their marriages, even if he cheats.

What do celebrities Fantasia Barrino and Alicia Keys, who have been in the news recently for having affairs with married men, have in common with author Nicole Cleveland? Nothing. Cleveland does share a bond with actress Sandra Bullock, who recently divorced Jesse James because he was unfaithful. The difference is Cleveland chose to stay with her husband, Jerry, even after his affair produced a baby. She writes about it in her book, So He Cheated, Now What?

Cleveland (left), a development manager with the public broadcasting station in Norfolk, Virginia, has turned the experience into a ministry that helps women heal. She launched BreatheAgainMagazine.com in 2006, where others who have overcome major obstacles encourage women. To Christians, marriage represents not only a lifetime commitment to one’s mate but a foreshadowing of the relationship between Jesus and His church. However, several published reports estimate divorce among Christians in the U.S. is higher than the 50 percent national average. Infidelity is often the main reason. Published reports indicate an estimated 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women have been unfaithful. I talked with Cleveland about her book and message, which is also instructive to us men who have been unfaithful or are considering it.

URBAN FAITH: When you see news stories about infidelity what’s your reaction?

NICOLE CLEVELAND: I tell everyone that it’s never going to stop. When it’s high profile celebrities, like in the case of Sandra Bullock, it’s unfortunate because they don’t have a chance to heal. I wasn’t in the public eye like that.

Could dealing with it privately be worse?

In public it’s worse because you can’t really grieve. Everyone, even people you don’t know, is telling you what you should do. The one who was cheated on doesn’t have time and space to do what they need to do to heal. But on the flip side, when you’re suffering privately by yourself, it’s particularly hurtful because you don’t have anyone to talk to. You don’t want others to know and you can feel ashamed.

Why is So He Cheated, Now What? more of a workbook than a narrative about what happened with you and your husband?

I wanted to give actionable steps. I wanted to speak to the person who is going through it and tell them what to do. I wanted to let them know that they are not alone. I really wanted to hone in on that person who is hurt now. I wanted less drama. People want to talk about whether the other woman or the man is wrong, but what about the person who is hurting right now? The focus is off of that hurting person and it’s on revenge instead.

How does it affect you to hear of others wounded by infidelity?

I hear from women everyday through my website. They email me and tell me they don’t have any idea what they’re going to do. People call me at 10, 11 o’clock at night because they’re having an episode or flash back. I sometimes laugh because it takes me back to the same state. I can tell them what stage they’re in and what they’re going to feel or do next. Sometimes I cry with them. They say, “You think I’m stupid, you think I’m dumb.” Absolutely not. I’ve been there. My heart goes out to them.

Do you ever feel locked into talking and writing about infidelity only?

I do feel like that sometimes because it is reliving it again over and over. But when I tell my story I get healing from it each time. I believe it’s because mine is centered on faith and God and what He’s done for me. I have a mandate to tell the story. I don’t do it for me I do it for others. The bible says we overcome by the power of our testimony so someone needs to hear the story.

How can couples prevent infidelity?

You have to keep the communication tight. You can’t put things before your marriage. We were really busy in the church. Church is supposed to bring you together, but sometimes it can be that thing that helps pull you apart. We allowed the enemy to sneak in. I don’t condone what my husband has done, but we need to move forward. Our relationship is better now. We’re friends. We were like roommates before. We were like robots doing what we needed to do. We now take out time for ourselves. We laugh together.

I bet you’ve had women roll their eyes when you say that.

Oh yeah, but I say you never know what you would do until you’re in the situation. I was that woman who rolled her neck and rolled her eyes and said I would never do that. Then I had to eat my words.

Why did you stay with your husband?

I wanted my marriage to work. I love him. I love my family.

Why do people feel infidelity is the unpardonable sin?

We are so caught up with what others think about us. It comes from arrogance and what you would put up with. It’s also betrayal. I couldn’t have done it on my own. God took me through it. As women, we sit around and talk about stuff like that. “If he cheated, I would bust him upside the head.” Look at all the movies. There is such a big focus on adultery.

Why do you think?

It’s drama and people can relate to it. We like other people’s misery. Look at the Tiger Woods situation. Whose business is their marriage? I did a lot of interviews around that. I felt for his wife (Elin Nordegren) because she had no time to do privately what she needed to do for herself. A lot of times the people who say they wouldn’t do something are the ones that would.

That goes for people who say they would never cheat too?

That’s true, very true.

Why do people cheat?

I know my situation, but each is different. It goes back to that “make believe” aspect of it. You have to be who you really are at home. You have to come correct. The other person is allowing you to be king of whatever you feel you need to be king of. You don’t have to deal with laundry or picking up kids. Maybe you’re not hearing from your spouse that you look good or smell good. This goes both ways, by the way. Then there’s the conversation about the bills. At home it’s all about what you didn’t do right. My husband and I always go back to the movie John Q to the scene where the wife tells the husband “Do something!” He makes a very drastic decision that goes bad and he ends up saying, “Well, you told me to do something.” We don’t realize we’re doing that as women. We’re so focused on what we’re supposed to be doing – family and work and extra activities for the kids. Very few men marry their mistresses.

What’s next for you?

My goal is for the book to reach the people that it’s reaching. I want women to know that the pain will go away and someone else has been where you’ve been; they’ve cried the same tears and they’ve made it. So can you.