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Entertainment consumers say media pushes stereotypes of religion

A staggaring 80% of entertainment consumers would like to see fewer religious stereotypes and more faith-based movies, according to a HarrisX poll conducted in collaboration with the Faith & Media Initiative.

Dwight Widaman, Editor

The poll found that 69 percent of Americans and 63 percent of people around the world who consume entertainment say they believe entertainment perpetuates religious stereotypes. Only 31 percent of Americans say it does not. Further, 82 percent of Americans and 80 percent of individuals around the world say they believe it’s “important that the entertainment industry improves their portrayals of faith to make them more accurate.”

“This research shows there is an untapped market in entertainment media,” said Brooke Zaugg, Executive Director of the Faith & Media Initiative. “Across the globe, consumers are looking for more accurate portrayals of faith and spirituality. This isn’t about creating faith content, rather adding faith fluency and diverse storylines to all types of TV and movies. We urge the entertainment industry to take notice of this enormous global audience; it’s not just good business but also a priceless opportunity to unify people when the world feels increasingly divided.”

Entertainment consumers also say they want to see more faith themes in movies and TV programs. “Faith and religion” ranked sixth out of 18 themes that consumers say they desire to see in movies and television. It ranked 13th out of 18 themes in what consumers say is currently present in entertainment.

The poll also found:

  • A majority of consumers say religious identity is the least represented, yet the most sensationalized element of identity portrayed.
    • Respondents say they don’t see their religious identity on screen as much as their gender, race, or sexual orientation.
    • When they do see their religious identity portrayed, it’s more likely to be a sensational or stereotypical depiction.
  • 68% of global viewers say it is important to have diverse religious perspectives in TV and movies.
  • Most consumers across religions say portrayals of their faith follow repeat storylines, rather than cover fresh, diverse narratives.
  • Creating understanding and dispelling stereotypes are cited as the top reasons why representation is important.
    • 61% of global consumers think TV and movies can foster dialogue between people of different beliefs.
    • 59% of global consumers report learning something new about another religion from a movie or TV show.
  • A significant majority of respondents – 80% – say it’s important that the entertainment industry improves portrayals of faith to make them more accurate.

“Consumers say they learn about other religions through entertainment and see the potential for faith-inclusive content to create understanding and dialogue in society,” the survey report said. “Yet respondents share that when they see their religion or faith — and others — included in mainstream entertainment, they feel it’s often sensationalized or that the portrayal leans on stereotypes.”

Christian director Jon Erwin previously stated that Hollywood too often, gets faith wrong.

“A lot of entertainment today chips away at faith, chips away at belief in things that are still worth believing in,” he said. “Christianity is one of those things. But so is America or entrepreneurism or the family — or just a certain set of values on which Christianity rests. We’re living in a very cynical world where it’s tough to know what to believe in. And if you watch a lot of popular shows but also movies, you find yourself in a me-vs.-everyone mindset, where it’s hard to know what to believe in. And so we want to create]content that restores faith in things that are worth it. Christianity is lifechanging for me and 2.5 billion people.”

A Harris poll in the fall of 2023 found Americans believe the media in general mistreats religion in reporting.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice


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