The Oscars are coming Sunday.
It’s time for glitz, glam, Vanity Fair specials, a little naked gold guy with a huge sword to get manhandled by some and coveted by others. It’s time for TIME to go absolutely nuts posting the top ten opening sequences, the top ten movie theme songs and the top ten weird giant movie monsters. Basically, it’s time to go nuts about some awards many of us would literally kill to get our hands on.
Amidst all the glam and the style and the fashion and…oh yeah…the movies, spirituality and religion creeps in and colors the film industry with some heart, meaning, complexity and controversy. Although none of this year’s Best Film nominees are explicitly religious in theme they certainly play off the spiritual quest of humanity. For a more in-depth exploration of the spirituality of this year’s major Oscar nominees look here to a CNN Belief Blog on the topic.
With all the spirituality making its way into the movies I began to wonder about the spirituality of the movie makers. It seems all you hear about when it comes to religion in Hollywood is good ole’ easy-for-laughs-but-not-for-substance-scientoligist-Tom-Cruise
Or maybe when it comes to religion and the stars you naturally gravitate to thoughts about so-racist/sexist/crazy-but-also-devoutly-Roman-Catholic-it-seems-to-overshadow-the-priest-sex-abuse-scandals-walking-contradiction-Mel-Gibson
But there is way more going on in Hollywood than one might think.
Here is a quick run down on the faith of some of the major hitters in Hollywood and a few of the nominees for Best Director and Best Actor in a male or female role.
Before getting into this year’s Oscar nods, I thought I would start out with every tabloids favorite couple, Brangelina. Where do they turn when life gets tough, when they are thinking about divorce for the umpteenth time or when Brad is with Jennifer or Angelina is in Africa…it turns out, nowhere.
Brad told German magazine BILD that he doesn’t believe in God by stating, “I’m probably 20% atheist and 80% agnostic.” But what about Angelina Jolie his philanthropist wife? Surely her good-deeds come from some spiritual awakening? Apparently, Angelina’s religious position is as confusing as her relationship with her father. Asked in 2000 about her belief in God, Angelina hoped that for the people who believe in God that there is. Some Buddhists claim her because of her Khmer Buddhist tattoo (inspired by her son Maddox) and atheists claim her as well for her vague references to all religions being right/wrong. Certainly, Angelina is not Bible-toting Evangelical, but she is certainly someone on a journey without coming to a final conclusion.
What about the axe-weilding (American Psycho), crime fighting (Batman) and former crack addict boxer portraying (The Fighter) ubiquitous Hollywood favorite Christian Bale?
Okay, so he’s played Jesus…but does he believe in him?
Growing up with a father connected to the local bishop Bale grew up believing that Jesus looked like Neil Diamond (according to an E! Online interview in 2000), but since then his beliefs have become murky. Christian Bale prefers to keep tight lipped about his faith, although many suspect he is still nominally Christian he has chosen to keep even diehard Bale fans in the dark. What is known is that somebody decided to start a religion called Bale-ism and get it going on Facebook. So, maybe Bale is a Bale-ist.
The Black Swan star and popular actress Natalie Portman was raised Jewish and indeed she’s stated that she wants to raise her children as Jewish. However, don’t be fooled by the lip service. Natalie Portman openly stated she neither believes in the afterlife nor practices any particular faith. In a Rolling Stone interview back in 2002 she shared, “I don’t believe in [the afterlife]. I believe this is it and I believe it’s the best way to live.” While not specifically talking about G-d, Natalie Portman effectively rules Ha Shem out of the equation by negating the afterlife and affirming the positive dimension of living as if the supernatural does not exist. We could go way down this rabbit hole, but Portman is part of the large rank-and-file of “atheist” Jews, which may seem contradictory, but is an ever growing blend of culture/philosophy/religion/secularism in the Jewish world typified by the likes of the other Oscar fags the Coen Brothers. While creating a religion of their own with “the Dude who abideth” and touching on their own Jewish roots in A Serious Man, the Coen brothers are avowedly non-religious. Ethan even went so far as to say that believing in an all-knowing and all-loving G-d is “the height of stupidity.” Although not an Oscar nominee per se, Mark Zuckerberg was portrayed in this year’s critically acclaimed film, The Social Network, and also is an example of someone still culturally Jewish, but philosophically atheist.
Now, this one is a personal favorite tidbit from this article. I’ve had a man-crush on Colin Firth for years now, ever since I first saw him grace the screen as the indubitable Mr. Darcy in Sense and Sensibility.
Raised by academics in Nigeria, Britain and America and with grandparents that served as missionaries in India Colin Firth’s religious journey is an interesting one. In fact, his mother is a comparative religions professor who studies mystical religions in particular. Above it all, Firth seems to be an open-ended man who respects the religious journey of his family. However, with all that said, he is for all intensive purposes a pantheistic Western-style Hindu akin to his mother. Why is this so interesting? a) because Colin Firth is dreamy and b) because his grandparents were Congregational missionaries in India, where his mother was raised and through this influence they both actually became Western-style Hindus. What a fascinating journey!
Now, leaving the best for last, the person you are all wondering about. The actor who perplexes people with his spiritual complexity and challenges movie-watches with the depth of his emotive acting and stunning realism. Woody from the Toy Story series. Although his pull-string isn’t too telling, sources close to Woody tell me he’s sporting the red-thread bracelet of the Kabbalah. Only time will tell if this is a fad or if Woody is serious about his mystical portage through life.
As you can see, it isn’t always easy to know what the makes actors’ souls tick. While we know Richard Gere and Orlando Bloom are Buddhist and it’s pretty obvious that Kirk Cameron is a full-blown Evangelical, other stars keep quite tight lipped about their faith. It kind of makes me wonder why? With all the other things they speak out about why not their faith? Maybe they should keep their mouths closed, I mean, they say enough about politics; but maybe they should speak out. With their lead, there might possibly be a better dialogue on faith in the public sphere. I mean, if Hollywood stars can be honest about their spiritual journey and share their struggles then we could too?
For now, while all the other news agencies are telling you who will win and what to watch out for on the red carpet (not to mention a few drinking games to go along with the live broadcast from the Kodak Theater) I encourage you look out for spirituality and religion at the Oscars this year. Listen for references to the spiritual side of life in movie clips, red carpet fashion, interview questions and acceptance speeches. You might be surprised by what you hear, and you may just be encouraged to find out that along with the fame of Hollywood, comes a very human struggle with faith.