Hollywood has been hamstrung over the years trying to figure out how to portray faith in film. They appear to be successful only when the movie is set in the past, as with “Amazing Grace,” “Chariots of Fire,” or “A Trip to Bountiful.” There have been a few exceptions.
Bethany Hamilton has an extraordinary story to tell. Working hard to enter the ranks of professional surfing, by the age of 13 she already had a sponsor. But her life was shattered one morning in 2003. Out in the water, on a beautiful day, she was attacked by a 15-foot-long tiger shark. The shark bit through Bethany’s surfboard, and took off her arm at the shoulder. In a sport that requires the ability to push up on a floating, moving piece of foam and fiberglass, the loss of an arm would be, for most people, a career-ending injury.
But Bethany Hamilton is not “most people.”
Her incredible adventure is the subject of a new film, “Soul Surfer,” opening nationwide on April 8. The filmmakers are banking on the idea that the public is ready for a film that champions the triumph of family, faith, and the human spirit—not usually a big stretch, except that in this case they are willing to share Bethany’s life, all of it, including her deep faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hollywood has been hamstrung over the years trying to figure out how to portray faith in film. They appear to be successful only when the movie is set in the past, as with “Amazing Grace,” “Chariots of Fire,” or “A Trip to Bountiful.” There have been a few exceptions. “Because of Winn Dixie” featured a modern-day preacher’s family. Tyler Perry’s films have a strong faith element. And the Sherwood crew behind “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof” have demonstrated that they can make profitable films.
But in 2009, Hollywood hit real pay dirt with an incredible sports story that involved a family of committed Christians. “The Blind Side” was the story of how the love of a family turned Michael Oher from another homeless black teen into an NFL powerhouse. Sandra Bullock, who portrayed mom Leigh Anne Touhy, won an Academy Award for best actress. The film was enormously popular with the public. The good news is “Soul Surfer” is this year’s “The Blind Side.”
Marc Newman, Ph.D., is the president of MovieMinistry—a company that helps the church use movies to reach out to others and connect with people.
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