Zero Dark Thirty: A Tale of Bias and Burqas

What can we, as storytellers, do to avoid biased and inaccurate (perhaps offensive) portrayals of others in our films? As much as I may intellectually value other voices, it is exceedingly difficult for me to recognize the impact of my own inner biases when I am creating stories.

As a filmmaker passionate to cross-cultural stories and also dedicated to crafting authentic stories that present accurate depictions of culture, this article is a great caution for me. While I think of myself as one who values other voices and hates simple stereotypes, I’m sure I am guilty of falling into the same traps. I am, after all, tremendously influenced by my own culture, religion, and upbringing. As much as I may intellectually value other voices, it is exceedingly difficult for me to recognize the impact of my own inner biases when I am creating stories. I may really be committed to presenting authentic points of view, but I have to acknowledge that I often can’t see the impact of my biases.

Here’s what this author says about the portrayal of Muslim women in two Oscar celebrated American films.

Zero Dark Thirty and Argo have twelve Oscar nods between them. There has been much heated discussion on their portrayal of Muslims and how much of it ought to be excused do to artistic message. In the end, though, their many accolades serve as one more example of anti-Muslim women dialogues in Western society being fervently rewarded.

Read the whole article here, from Patheos: Zero Dark Thirty: A Tale of Bias and Burqas.

What can we, as storytellers, do to avoid biased and inaccurate (perhaps offensive) portrayals of others in our films?

The Proper Posture for Mentoring

I try to shift my own thinking and self-perception when I’m in a situation where I’ve been brought in as the ‘expert’, especially if I’m foreigner.

It’s nice to come into a situation where you’re the expert–often treated with honor. It feels good. But I try to shift my own thinking and self-perception when I’m in a situation where I’ve been brought in as the ‘expert’, especially if I’m foreigner.

It may be true that I have special experience and gifting that separates me from the group in a significant way. However, my goal is that, by the end of our time together, we will have bonded together in such a way and I will have shared what I bring in such a way as to have broken down many of the invisible walls.

In the words of John Perkins, pioneer of Christian community development…

Go to the people.

Live among them.

Learn from them.

Love them.

Start with what they know.

Build on what they have.

But of the best leaders,

when their task is accomplished,

when their work is done . . .

the people will remark:

“We have done it ourselves.”

Poorer, Poorer. Slower, Slower. Smaller, Smaller.

“As my extended family gathered around the Thanksgiving dinner table before the market crash in 2008, conversation with cousins flowed about friends making big money with technology start-ups: “more, more; faster, faster; bigger, bigger.”

A hail of laughter greeted me when I quietly muttered that my ambition was, “poorer, poorer; slower, slower; smaller, smaller.” – Bob Sabath [quoted from an post on Sojo.net]

Click here to read: Poorer, Poorer. Slower, Slower. Smaller, Smaller. – Bob Sabath | Gods Politics Blog.

I don’t find it embarassing, nor do I feel it’s a lack of faith in God’s provision and power, to say that I’ve become more enamoured with smaller, slower things. I would not even chalk it up to age – now that I am turning 50 in April.

It’s mainly that I have lived through enough initiatives, organizations, programs, movements, and projects to have discovered that my particular gifts are best expressed in what might be described as ‘smaller’ and ‘slower’ and ‘poorer.’ And, actually, I believe this hard-earned insight can be found in much of God’s work throughout history. Certainly we know that Jesus worked in a way that was tremendously counter-cultural, and would certainly be in our day. He came to serve. He was born in a backwater town. His kingdom is not founded on any of the power systems or cranked-up business models of his day or ours.

Can I encourage you in this? Even we who are or have been leaders and servants in organizations, businesses, and churches need to be constantly reminded of the power of slow, poor, and small.

Here’s why I’m thinking of this as I write; I’m on my way to a conference in Europe. I am leading a team of media trainers for a multi-day video production training session. The students will come from all over Eurasia. We have people from Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, and other countries that are very closed to the gospel. They want to learn how to visually communicate the good news of Jesus in effective ways to many people groups who have never heard it before.

This conference will never compete with the great public events of our day. It doesn’t even make a blip on the evangelical Christian news screens or blogs. But, I believe what will happen there will prove our faith and will bear fruit for the Kingdom of God in its own peculiar kingdom way. I have been exchanging e-mails with a group of participants in the training – a couple dozen people. When I read their e-mails, where they are working, their desire to learn, and the opportunities they have, I have a strong sense that God is doing it again. He is taking the weak things, the despised things, the things that are not (1 Cor 1:28) and using them for His glory.

Cost-Effective Compassion: The 10 Most Popular Strategies for Helping the Poor

What I find interesting, and telling, is that none of these strategies are really incarnational. That is, they don’t involve us getting too close, too involved, too personally invested, in the people we are trying to help.

My family talks about this stuff often, and we desire to become more and more effective at doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

Here’s an interesting article about some of the ways we (typically middle-class Christians in North America) try to help the poor and oppressed. Most importantly, some folks tried to analyze the real impact of these popular ways we try to help. [Click the link below for the article.]

Cost-Effective Compassion: The 10 Most Popular Strategies for Helping the Poor | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

My family pursues a few of these strategies, hoping it will make a real difference. What I find interesting, and telling, is that none of these strategies are really incarnational. That is, they don’t involve us getting too close, too involved, too personally invested, in the people we are trying to help. The gospel, as communicated in the Bible, is inherently incarnational. Could not God have just ‘written a check?’ Perhaps not. So, Christ chose to renounce his privilege and position and distance from the people with the problem – us.

In my family’s discussion of all this, we are finding ourselves more and more drawn to what we know to be the truth; while some help can be offered from a distance, true understanding and true transformation most often requires us to come alongside those we desire to help. This article shows how complex some of these situations really are. Unless we are part of the context, we will almost certainly miss that complexity and come up with a solution that is only partially effective, or one that even makes problems worse!

We are thinking about how we can free ourselves from our self-centeredness, our need for security, approval, or just our stuff – to become free to incarnate in a more fully Christlike way among those who Jesus came to serve and save.

The Tree of Life’s Invitation To Grace

Now out on DVD, Terrence Malick’s latest film, The Tree of Life, is an ambitious and evocative film that challenges viewers with a wide-ranging narrative that touches on deeply personal moments between family members and the biggest of all questions, the creation of the cosmos.

Now out on DVD, Terrence Malick’s latest film, The Tree of Life, is an ambitious and evocative film that challenges viewers with a wide-ranging narrative that touches on deeply personal moments between family members and the biggest of all questions, the creation of the cosmos. While some people find Malick’s work to be tedious, and inscrutable, I find The Tree of Life to be a compelling, if imperfect, examination of the deepest questions of life and relationships.

Malick introduces his thematic conflict of Grace vs. Nature in the persons of Mr. & Mrs. O’Brien, played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. They are parents to three boys, growing up in the 1950s in small-town Texas. The film closely follows the life of the oldest, Jack, played beautifully by newcomer Hunter McCracken and, in middle age, by Sean Penn.

“There are two ways through life; the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.” With these words, Jack’s mother introduces her invitation to live in grace. She is a playful, warm, loving presence in the boys’ life. Contrasting this is Jack’s father’s point-of-view, that of Nature; “It takes fierce will to get ahead in this world.” He is a man consumed by frustration and disappointment. He is driven to fight for every scrap of ground, every rung on the ladder of success. And his mission is to instill his values in the lives of his boys, dismissing the way of grace espoused by their mother.

The unexpected death of R.L., the middle son, at age 19 sets the conflict in motion. This moment in time is explored briefly in the beginning of the film but the majority of the film is told in flashback to the sometimes idyllic, sometimes tempestuous childhood of Jack and his brothers. Older Jack (Sean Penn) is introduced as he attempts, now in middle age, to deal with the conflict and unresolved guilt from his childhood. Jack’s journey as a boy and as an adult is explained by Jack himself, “Father, Mother, always you wrestle inside me. Always you will.”

Malick’s brings this world to life in his typically lyric, evocative storytelling style. He makes liberal use of jump-cuts and repetition, and a floating, fluid camera. Long periods pass without dialogue, allowing the actors and their subtle expressions to convey what is happening. This style has its detractors and certainly demands more from an audience. However, I never found myself lost to the story, even when Malick inserts a lengthy montage, ambitiously taking us all the way back to the Big Bang (flashback-of-all-flashbacks!) Malick’s use of recurring images and sounds, the ocean, doorways, trees and light, contrasting modern steel architecture, create a beautiful visual and aural tapestry that invites multiple viewings.

Of course, a film that risks much and challenges its audience is bound to fall short at moments and have its detractors. The Creation Montage is one major aside that seems a bit long for its intended story purpose. I also questioned the passivity of the Protagonist, Jack. As a youth he is very active in boyish ways but seems compelled to act in ways that escalate into actual cruelty to his younger brother–the way of nature. Interestingly, he paraphrases St. Paul’s observation from the 7th chapter of Romans about doing the very thing he doesn’t want to do. As the adult Jack, Sean Penn spends most of the film looking tired and pensive. He never makes a decisive step to address the conflict.

On more reflection, I am oddly comforted that Jack is never forced to act, as an adult, in order to find forgiveness and grace. He is drawn to it by his mother and brother. They open a door and invite him to step through. Isn’t this really what grace is all about? Normally we say that a Protagonist must act, must choose, must risk. Malick seems to be saying, “No, grace can come to us in other ways.” This is truly Grace – unmerited favor rather than self-saving action. It’s not typical Hollywood, and it is a compelling message for us.

Open Your Eyes To Other Cultures This Christmas

In the holiday season, it’s easy to become focused on ourselves and our own small worlds. If you’re looking for an eye-opening view of another of God’s diverse cultures, you owe it to yourself to watch this video clip and check out “The Enemy God” on DVD.

In the holiday season, it’s easy to become focused on ourselves and our own small worlds. If you’re looking for an eye-opening view of another of God’s diverse cultures, you owe it to yourself to watch this video clip and check out “The Enemy God” on DVD.