For Christians, Easter marks the proclamation of good news that echoes through the ages: “He is risen!” Believers celebrate in worship services that are typically overflowing and joyous.
Yet following a difficult year, one cannot help but survey bad-news headlines as well. Gallup reports fewer than half of Americans now belong to a church or other house of worship. Even for the faithful, only 39 percent of Christians plan to attend in-person Easter worship services this year. Still, it’s a season the majority of families prioritize stories and songs of faith, even amid candy-filled egg hunts and tales of bunnies.
Similar to Christmas, prominent producers and artists often take the opportunity to release works that revoice the Gospel narrative and its relevance. Here are five current music, TV, and film projects that depict Christian faith in new and culturally significant ways.
‘The Chosen’ Season Two
Suddenly, it seems like “The Chosen” is everywhere. A serialized retelling of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ and his disciples, the $22 million-crowdfunded TV series first premiered in 2019.
After being viewed by tens of millions of people in more than 200 countries via free mobile apps, the eight-episode first season was released this week on other platforms, including NBC-Universal’s streaming service Peacock TV. It’s all to build awareness for this weekend’s season two launch.
In these grander-scale chapters, Christ and his disciples journey to Jerusalem for the first time together. Much of the action was filmed on an 800-acre movie set in Utah that meticulously recreates the ancient city, although showrunner Dallas Jenkins said their intent was to “zero in” on small, personal encounters. “Ultimately, I believe viewers are impacted by Jesus, not how ‘epic’ it looks.” Season two of “The Chosen” premieres Sunday worldwide via their mobile apps.
‘My Savior’ by Carrie Underwood
Over the past year, multiple Grammy winner Carrie Underwood has kept busy. Facing shelter-in-place orders at her Nashville home with her husband and two young kids, she recorded two albums — both of which harken back to her Oklahoma upbringing.
This past fall, her Christmas record “My Gift” topped the Billboard charts. Now her first-ever Gospel album “My Savior” features 13 sacred hymns such as “Softly and Tenderly” and “How Great Thou Art,” her vocals backed up by 20 of Nashville’s top musicians. Considering Underwood came on the scene with “Jesus, Take the Wheel” then progressed on to a baptism-tinged single “Something in the Water,” no one is surprised to see the former church soloist bring this offering.
“As a kid, I would read these [hymns] on paper, singing them because I like to sing,” said Underwood in an interview this past week. “Now I am finding new meaning in these songs. It’s like reading the Bible, when you can read the same verse or chapter a thousand times — and one day you find something new in it that holds a different weight.”
Although few people today have an appetite for more streaming services, Discovery Plus has proven the exception to this since its January launch. Featuring familiar shows like “House Hunters” and “Planet Earth” organized under popular brands like HGTV and TLC, the streamer has surprised analysts with more than 11 million sign-ups already. As of this week, subscribers can also enjoy “Resurrection,” a vigorous, faithful retelling of the biblical Easter story
It’s produced by husband-wife duo Roma Downey and Mark Burnett. They see the new platform as an opening to get faith-and-family titles trending nationwide.
“Even though the audience is massive, you’d be amazed [that] fewer places want our shows,” said Downey, producer of inspirational series “The Dovekeepers,” among others. “It’s like they’re a little bit afraid of content like that. But not Discovery Plus.” Assuming this film finds an audience on the streamer, the producers have more faith-and-family-oriented movies and shows ready to premiere.
Two weeks ago, director Lee Isaac Chung received the career-altering news that “Minari,” his semi-autobiographical film based on how his immigrant parents found a new life in Arkansas, had received six Oscar nominations. Among those receiving nods: 73-year-old actress Yuh-Jung Youn, appearing in her first American film after 55 years onscreen. When asked last month about attending the Oscars, she humbly demurred. “Oh, goodness, no! I’ll be surprised if so.”
Beautifully shot in Oklahoma, the family’s Christian faith figures prominently in their pursuit of the American dream. “Church was such a big part of our community in Lincoln, Arkansas,” said Chung in an interview. “It’s how I grew up — and it stuck with me, it’s something that I am still. I think the more that we explore [faith] in a healthy way, maybe there would be less conflict about it as well in this country.”
With buzz increasing as the Oscars on April 25 comes closer, family drama “Minari” is currently available to watch on-demand.
‘A Week Away’
When the trailer dropped six weeks ago, most responses ran from amused to skeptical. Netflix has a spin on “Camp Rock” with Christian music — what could go wrong? Yet, after working on it for seven years, faith-driven producers behind “A Week Away” are thrilled with its initial success.
Since last week’s release on Netflix in more than 190 countries, the inspirational film has been a top-three movie worldwide on the most popular streaming service. Meanwhile, the album remains No. 1 on iTunes’ Christian chart. In a new clip released by Netflix, Bailee Madison (“Once Upon A Time”) brings a worshipful tone to what had been an upbeat, dance-driven musical.
Audiences perhaps can tell she grew up in church, as did co-star Kat Conner Sterling (“Gifted”), daughter of an evangelical minister. Music producer Adam Watts, who worked on all three “High School Musical” flicks, carefully crafted the campfire medley of praise chorus “Awesome God” with the contemporary pop hit “God Only Knows.” Producer Steve Barnett called it “the most important scene in the movie.”
— Bailee Madison (@BaileeMadison) March 28, 2021