How to Make a Good Religious Movie (Hint: Focus on Women)

I can't believe I didn't think of this before as I was writing about the challenges of making good movies about faith, but the obvious solution is to go backwards in time. And this trailer for Vision, a life of the rather quietly badass Hildegard von Bingen, is a terrific argument for why:

Our contemporary debates about religion, particularly about Christianity and Islam, are calcified to the point that they make for unwatchable movies. Films about Christianity must feature characters who move away from their faith to satisfy one audience's political leanings, or characters who embrace a life of devotion to satisfy another set of viewers' values. Movies about Islam must either make the argument that a world religion is not defined by its most violent corruptors, or that extremist Islam is an existential threat. There's really no such thing as a religious movie any more, just films that serve political ends through religion.

That's why moving back in time makes so much sense. The issues at stake in earlier Christianity, for example, were actually about how to live your faith. Religion and politics could be intertwined, of course—the female religious who were key players in mystic Christianity raised questions not just about worship but about the access women had to God, and to power. But religion was primary.

And these kinds of movies offer some great roles for women. If you're a nun, you're automatically removed from the cycle of romantic comedy, and that's a good thing. Nuns do a whole lot of things in life: they counsel death-row prisoners, they revolutionize the church from within, they save the ostracized in India, they struggle and die in Auschwitz. Making movies about religious women is a way to make movies about women, and their work without diverting them into romances in which, in our era, movies about women are really, all too often, movies about men.