Before the conservative panic about political bias in Big Tech, there was the conservative panic about political bias in Hollywood. It would, after all, be hard to find a place more solidly blue than Tinseltown, where those to the right of center have long felt the need to keep their views under wraps and where traditional Christian mores are all but anathema. No wonder, then, that entertainment products aiming to portray religion in a favorable way have famously suffered from low budgets, a dearth of technical expertise, and the tendency to put preaching above plot.
With The Chosen, director Dallas Jenkins wanted to change that. Billed as the largest crowdfunded media project of all time, this series about the life of Christ raised $10 million apiece for the first two eight-episode seasons, which can now be streamed for free through the Angel Studios mobile app. It hopes to pull in another $100 million for five more seasons. At roughly $2.5 million per episode, that would be on par with many slick cable television shows.
The Chosen has received virtually no attention from mainstream critics, yet the audience ratings are sterling. That may not be saying much: Between Hollywood offerings that routinely mock believers and Christian media's track record of hopelessly bad productions, the standard wasn't high. Many viewers, including me, tuned in only reluctantly.
The scripts and acting are indeed hit or miss—but when they hit, the result is something special. The main characters feel surprisingly real, and the filmmaking is a delight to behold. Most interesting of all, though, is what the series could portend: a future in which underrepresented groups route around industry gatekeepers and fund high-quality projects themselves.