Here is the narrative we all think we know: Protestants, those dour entertainment-haters, have been the scourge of Hollywood throughout the history of film—boycotting and condemning whatever they deem inappropriate on the silver screen, and praising the occasional (and often poorly-made) film with positive religious themes that happens somehow to slip past the gatekeepers.
Of late, the narrative continues, some Protestants have moved toward “cultural engagement” and begun to recognize the validity of film as an art form. It will take much time to undo a century’s worth of damage.
But in his new and highly readable book Reforming Hollywood: How American Protestants Fought for Freedom at the Movies (Oxford University Press), William Romanowski (a professor at Calvin College and noted commenter on religion and pop culture) challenges this narrative, demonstrating that it is not simply reductionist—it’s almost entirely wrong (and frequently wrongheaded). Film history has dealt Protestants a bad hand, and Romanowski’s meticulously researched book is a valuable contribution to a richer narrative, one that recognizes the profound contribution that Protestants have made to the shape of the American film industry. And, furthermore, the book traces how Protestants have coped with a rapidly pluralizing society. As Romanowski points out, “the film industry is an important catalyst for examining how this socio-religious group coped with a dramatic loss of power.”