Thank you, thank you, to all the readers who made sure that I knew about the Los Angeles Times news feature by William Lobdell and Stuart Pfeifer about Matthew Crouch and his Gener8Xion Entertainment, which is one of the most controversial players in the emerging Contemporary Christian Cinema industry. I saw the piece when it came out earlier this week, but it has taken me a few days to put into words what was nagging me about this story, which had one of those killer headline packages: "Deep pockets fuel his Hollywood crusade -- Tax-free donations from his parents' Trinity Broadcasting Network fund Matthew Crouch's religion-themed movies."
Here is a sample of the story, which uses the new film One Night With the King as its news hook:
Matthew Crouch, 44, could use a box-office hit. Of his first three movies, none has turned a profit, although his 1999 movie, an apocalyptic thriller called "The Omega Code," is credited by some for showing Hollywood the potential of Christian-themed films, leading to such hits as "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and "The Passion of the Christ." Crouch's small, publicly traded company is struggling, having lost nearly $3.7 million last year, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Even so, Crouch's ties to his parents' cash-rich ministry -- which operates the world's largest religious broadcasting company -- may help explain why he never had to take a vow of poverty. He owns a Hollywood Hills mansion. He and his wife, Laurie, have eight vehicles, including a $240,000 Bentley Arnage.
. . . In many ways, Crouch and his company, Gener8Xion Entertainment, are Hollywood anomalies. He hasn't had to look further than his parents -- with their tax-free donor base and worldwide television reach -- to bankroll and market his movies. In other ways, the stereotype of a Hollywood producer fits snugly. Friends and foes describe him, by turns, as charismatic, arrogant, charming, ruthless, visionary and greedy.
The bottom line here is that some people in Hollywood are trying to take the Christian movie market seriously and Crouch is the kind of guy who, for many Hollywood players on the cultural left, symbolizes that market and its customers. The Times piece is very, very negative and makes it perfectly clear that Crouch -- who did that Christian press-relations thing and refused to do an interview -- has made all kinds of enemies, including some people who used to be his friends and employees.
It's a damning picture, and the facts appear solid. There are many colorful details, including an evangelistic-movie screenwriter who was arrested not far from Hollywood "on suspicion of soliciting a child for sex over the Internet and attempted child molestation."
Then there was Gener8Xion's vice president of marketing, Sean Abbananto:
His prior industry experience was as an actor in several adult films, including "Erotic Fantasies III." Abbananto, who had no marketing experience, said he was upfront about his past.
"The thing I enjoyed about Matt and Gener8Xion is that stuff didn't bother them," said Abbananto, who now runs a Christian ministry. "They were more interested in what you're doing now, as opposed to what you did then."
In a statement, TBN said that Crouch was unaware of Abbananto's previous work.
But like I said, something about this story bothered me. Something was missing.
First of all, everything boils down to one question: Is Crouch a good choice to symbolize the traditional Christian presence in the Hollywood marketplace? Is his the right face to pin on that valid story?
I would say he is not typical, in lots of ways. We can see this by paying attention to who is not quoted in this Times story.
The story features secular players who distrust or detest Crouch. So be it. It also quotes a few positive people who clearly work for Crouch or are still working with him. So be it.
But there are many different Christian organizations active in Hollywood these days. There are believers who are, in fact, quite well known, and they often speak openly about film and faith. Where are the folks from Act One? Where are people from Fuller Seminary, City of the Angels Film Festival and Reel Spirituality? Where are the faculty members from Biola University, Azusa Pacific University or the Los Angeles Film Studies Center (a program linked to the Washington Journalism Center, where I teach)?
Either one of two things happened.
It could be the reporters at the Times did not know about these people and organizations, which means they accepted Crouch as a typical Christian in Hollywood without even doing a simple Google search, which would say something very bad about the newspaper's editors. Or it could be that Times people tried to talk to folks in the Christian mainstream and these artists and scholars simply refused to be quoted in a story about Crouch. That would say a lot about Crouch.
I would love to know what happened. I'll ask around, next time I'm on the left coast.