‘Blue Like Jazz’ Director: ‘The Christian Movie Establishment … is Out to Get Us’

By Christian Piatt 3-22-2012
Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW
Director Steve Taylor attends 'Blue Like Jazz' at SXSW. Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW

It’s no surprise that some Christians and the organizations they represent are less than enthused about the forthcoming Blue Like Jazz movie. But Steve Taylor, the film’s director, claimed today on Donald Miller’s Blog that certain prominent Christian filmmakers “issued what amounts to a fatwa against Blue Like Jazz.”

One of the concerns involves a movie being released this month called October Baby, which is being distributed by Provident Films. Taylor says he received word that Provident had ordered exhibitors not to show trailers of the Blue Like Jazz movie at October Baby showings.

Taylor also shared this excerpt from an email forwarded to him, which reportedly came from the Vice President of Provident Films (text is verbatim from Taylor’s post):

 i think exhibitors  are going to try to play the Blue Like Jazz trailer with october baby

 this can not happen – the trailer actually has the words “I hate Jesus” in the voiceover along with a number of images that will be very offensive to catholics

 it is in the best interest of theaters to not run the trailer because they are going to have a lot of angry patrons if they do

 thanks for your help here

Not surprisingly, this upset Taylor for many reasons. Specifically,  nowhere in the Blue Like Jazz trailer or the film are the words “I hate Jesus” used.

“I did talk to, and am talking to, the marketing head at Provident Films,” Taylor told me by phone Thursday. He says he emailed the woman at Provident and did not hear anything in response for five days. Once Taylor reached her, he says she told him she had never received his original email.  

Taylor’s contact at Provident assured him they would correct any misinformation coming from Provident about the content of the Blue Like Jazz film, he says.

So where exactly is such pressure coming from?

Taylor has connected the dots, which, he says,  seem to lead him back to Sherwood Pictures and Sherwood Baptist Church, in Albany, Ga. 

Sherwood Pictures is a well-known producer of Christian films, including FireproofFacing the Giants (both of which list Provident as a production company) and most recently, Courageous (which was produced "in association with" Provident, according to IMDB.com).

All of Sherwood's films have been written by brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick. Alex Kendrick, who has been an associate pastor at  Sherwood Baptist, has directed and acted in all three. (He's listed as "starring" in Fireproof and Facing the Giants on IMDB.)

No one from Sherwood has contacted Taylor directly. However, several people told Taylor personally that they are afraid to go on record, but were ordered to distance themselves from the Blue Like Jazz project for “fear of being blackballed” from working on future Sherwood Baptist movies.

Taylor says this order came from Sherwood Baptist’s Executive Pastor, Jim McBride.

“(Jim) hadn’t seen the movie prior to his edict,” Taylor says, “hadn’t read the screenplay or anything. I’m puzzled why he feels so strongly about a film he hadn’t seen. And how do they do this when their distributor, Sony, released The Da Vinci Code? They seem to be okay with that.”

The Blue Like Jazz film certainly departs from traditional Christian filmmaking in many ways. For one, there is language, drug use and sexual content that earned it a PG-13 rating. But none of this is handled in a way that glorifies the issues. Rather, there is an attempt by the filmmakers to present a more authentic portrayal of American college life.

“This is not a family-friendly movie,” Taylor warned at a recent screening of the film I attended. “It’s not meant to be.”

And because the movie does not ascribe to the Christian formula for filmmaking, Taylor doesn’t necessarily consider it a “Christian film,” in the traditional sense.

Rather, it’s a film that deals head-on with many Christian themes.

Blue Like Jazz is set for release April 13, and is expected to open on 100 screens in 25 cities its first weekend. The film is being distributed by Roadside Attractions, a traditionally “secular” company that has also distributed Albert Nobbs, Winter's Bone, The September Issue and 2006's Amazing Grace, the bio-pic about the British abolitionist (and Christian) William Wilberforce.

For more about this story, see a recent post on the Christianity Today blog.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, the Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About The Bible andBanned Questions About Jesus." He has a memoir on faith, family and parenting — PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date — hits book stores everywhere April 1. For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him onTwitter or Facebook.

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