The Chosen & The Future of Bible Adaptation, Film, & TV
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
If you haven't already, you owe it to yourself to check out The Chosen, a multi-season series adaptation of the life of Jesus that VidAngel launched last year. In my earlier series on adaptations related to Passover & the Passion week, I noted how The Chosen stands out due to its unique distribution method & market, as well the changing expectations of contemporary audiences. In light of the show's continued momentum, I wanted to take a moment and reflect on a few ways that the success of The Chosen may influence future adaptations and Bible Artists.
1) Niche & Independent Funding & Distribution Methods
Much has already been made about the unique funding and distribution method of The Chosen, and for good reason. The Chosen first drew notice because of its record-breaking crowdfunding & private investment campaign, in addition to being the first-of-its-kind: the Gospels adapted into long-form visual storytelling on a streaming service. Moreover, Dallas Jenkins, the primary creator of The Chosen, has continued to pursue new distribution methods. In light of the limited range of VidAngel's cliental, his team built infrastructure to extend the show's reach even further, creating an independent app so that viewers can access the show apart from VidAngel's platform in addition to offering the show in DVD form for direct sale online.
This a new business-model for Bible Artists to consider as they work to adapt biblical stories. Rather than being forced to choose between an underfunded or uninspired Christian system or the spiritually-bankrupt mainstream Hollywood/TV system, The Chosen proves that there is a viable third-option: professionally-crafted and confessionally-committed adaptations funded through the crowd and distributed online.
2) Every Artist is a Salesperson
Dallas Jenkins is remarkable, not just for his vision as a creator but also for his competence as a salesman. Although losing the big-Hollywood/big-TV system relieves him of some of the pressures of that system, it also means that The Chosen needs to be more proactive about generating an audience.
In previous eras, just playing in a big screen theater or airing on a channel was enough to draw in a decent audience in conjunction with the use of standard tools like trailers, movie posters, and licensed tie-ins. Outside of the mainstream system, however, an audience can't be taken for granted; it needs to be created. As a result, Jenkins and his team have to work double-duty, not just producing the show itself but also marketing it by means of social media.
3) Connecting Artists & Audiences
The reason the social media campaign of The Chosen has been successful in generating grassroots funding is that audiences increasingly desire to connect personally with the creators of the media that they consume. Gen Z cherishes authenticity and relationship. They prefer supporting the influencer that they can chat with over the faceless Hollywood system. Jenkins knows this and this why he communicates with his audience in a personal and direct fashion, creating a sense of relationship rather than a consumer-producer dynamic. Bible Artists that want to follow in the wake of Jenkins and The Chosen will do well to see their job in relational terms rather than expecting they can treat their work as a commodity that can be distributed impersonally.
4) The Need for Confessional Commitment
Mainstream media, by definition, needs to appeal to a mainstream audience, but, as historic Christianity becomes less and less mainstream, adaptations that portray the Gospel stories in a biblically-faithful fashion are becoming less lucrative for the traditional Hollywood system. You might think that this would make biblical adaptations that are non-confessional more attractive. Hollywood sure thought so... until all of their attempts to retell biblical epics through the lens of subversive, contemporary values turned into epic flops.
The reality is that as the general population becomes less Christian, their interest in a subversive adaptation of biblical stories is going to decrease. In the era of Christendom, even if you weren't a Christian, you still had a baseline level of biblical literacy. The average Gen Z youth, by contrast, has hardly any awareness of the core biblical stories. That makes them far less interested in biblical adaptations in general, and less capable of parsing an edgy subversive adaptation.
Instead of abandoning biblical-fidelity, The Chosen demonstrates why adaptations need to lean in and tout their confessional non-mainstream bias. That's because, in our current cultural climate, the audience that has a demand for biblical adaptations isn't mainstream - it's evangelicals, Catholics, and other Christians who adhere to historic orthodoxy. The more open that a creative team is about their faith, the less appealing they may be to the broader public, but the more loyalty they will inspire among viewers who share similar values.
5) The Need for Social Relevance
Although The Chosen may not need to worry about bowing down to the mainstream values embedded in the Hollywood system, this doesn't mean that it can simply ignore the broader cultural landscape. The Chosen has been deft about undercutting assumptions that the Gospel story is for WASPs by avoiding the whitewashing of previous biblical adaptations and, moreover, by foregrounding complex characters that are female and aspergers. With a little creativity, Bible Artists can achieve a balance between fidelity to the biblical story and innovative elements that reflect the more diverse context of today.
6) The Need for Theological Dialogue
By marketing The Chosen unapologetically to a faith-based audience, Jenkins has had to field concerns and questions about the implications of the film for particular theological traditions and systems. No adaptation is theologically-neutral; all Bible Art is informed by a variety of traditions, both religiously and creatively. Rather than trying to make a product that can be all things to all people, Bible Artists need to be prepared to reassure heresy hunters, explain their creative decisions, and invoke areas of discomfort as opportunities for dialogue between different communities.
7) Every Church is a Curator
One of the ways that The Chosen has broadened its audience base is by courting the recommendation of pastors and church leaders. Social media can only go so far in connecting creators to audiences. In order to connect with those who aren't active users, Bible Artists will rely on churches playing the role of cultural curator. Instead of focusing on blasting mainstream contemporary media, pastors can play the more productive and positive role of pointing their congregations toward Bible Art that is not only biblically instructive but also imaginatively formative.
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If you liked this post, you might want to check out some of my other posts on The Chosen and Bible adaptation. I have Bible studies/discussion guides for each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1-3, blogs exploring how The Chosen adapts key biblical figures, and articles exploring the controversial nature of adaptation. I hope you enjoy them!
The Chosen Season 3
The Chosen Season 3 Episode 1 & Episode 2: Reaction and Analysis
The Chosen Season 3 Episodes 1 & 2: Questions to Discuss Before the Premiere
Adapting Biblical Characters Series
Little James in The Chosen & Scripture ***Season 3***
Judas in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Matthew in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Simon and Andrew in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Exploring The Chosen with Youth or Small Group [Discussion Guides]
Episode 1 Guide: Homecoming
Episode 2 Guide: Two by Two
Season 2 Reflection P1: What is The Chosen Season 2 about?
Season 2 Reflection P2: What was The Chosen Season 2 about? (Plots & Theme)
Episode 1 Guide: The Beloved Disciple
Episode 2 Guide: Philip, Nathanael, & Matthew
Episode 3 Guide: Life Among the Disciples of Jesus
Episode 4 Guide: Simon the Zealot & the Man at the Bethesda Pool
Episode 5 Guide: Mary's Demons & the Destiny of John the Baptist
Episode 6 Guide: Mercy and Not Sacrifice
Episode 7 Guide: Quintus Returns
Episode 8 Guide: Judas, Matthew, & the Sermon on the Mount
Episode 1 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Lilith, and the Redeemer
Episode 2 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat
Episode 3 Guide: Depicting Jesus in Art, Film, and TV
Episode 4 Guide: When Jesus Met Simon (Peter)
Episode 5 Guide: Mary, Mother of Jesus
Episode 6 Guide: Jesus, Shmuel, & the Pharisees
Episode 7 Guide: Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus?
Episode 8 Guide: The Woman at the Well, Eden, & Zohara
The Chosen Controversies Series
The Chosen Season 2 Controversy (Jesus, the Bible, & the Process of Inspiration)
Should Nicodemus Kneel? Narrative Ambiguity & Charitable Reading
Beyond The Chosen
Amazon Prime's The Rings of Power & The Challenges of Biblical Adaptation
In Defense of The Chosen and Other Christian Movies, Books, & Media (Part 1)
In Defense of The Chosen and Other Christian Movies, Books, & Media (Part 2)
Imagining Mary Magdalene (5 More Bible Adaptations While You Wait for The Chosen Season 2)