In an essay published in the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter, Chris Rock states bluntly that the entertainment business is a white industry. “How many black men have you met working in Hollywood?” Rock asks. “They don’t really hire black men.”
Our guest, DeVon Franklin, did get hired. He’s a former executive at Sony Pictures and he stands out in Hollywood for another reason: he’s a minister who says he puts his faith first.
At Sony, Franklin worked on films with at least a subtext, if not an overt message, of faith--movies such as the Pursuit of Happyness, The Karate Kid and Jumping the Broom. Earlier this year he had a hit in Heaven Is For Real, based on a bestselling book by a pastor whose four-year-old son had a near-death experience and said he visited heaven during the ordeal.
Before he left Sony for a producing deal earlier this year, Franklin worked on the updated take on a much-loved musicalAnnie. Annie, played by Quvenzhané Wallis, is now a foster child in Harlem; the Daddy Warbucks character, played by Jamie Foxx, is a smartphone mogul. And Cameron Diaz as Hannigan has a substance-abuse problem.
Annie is not an overtly religious film, but Franklin says it sends the right message. He says faith is always foremost in his mind when he evaluates a potential project. But faith alone is not enough. The movie still has to have a strong story and commercial appeal.
When he sat down with us, Franklin said he’s tired of the idea that Hollywood and Christianity don’t really mix. He thinks they can coexist, but also thinks studios could do a better job about checking in with the Christian base when they make movies that are adaptations of Bible stories if they want to avoid the blowback that followed films like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. For Franklin, it’s similar to dealing with fans of graphic novels or comic books. If you’re going to make a movie adaptation, you’ve got to let the hardcore fans know you’re listening because they’re the ones who are going to be watching.