Recent Study Reveals Desire for ‘More Authentic’ Representation of Faith in Media

Movie-goers wait in line in front of an advertisement for Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” at a theater in New York City, on Feb. 25, 2004. (Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)

A recent study reveals a widespread desire among audiences for more authentic portrayals of faith and religion in movies and TV shows. Conducted by market research firm HarrisX in collaboration with the non-profit Faith and Media Initiative, the Global Faith and Entertainment Study surveyed nearly 10,000 people across 11 countries. It found that 80 percent of global audiences are calling for improvements in how faith is depicted in entertainment.

Participants in the study noted that their religious beliefs are often underrepresented in entertainment compared to other aspects of their identity, such as gender, race, or sexual orientation. When religion is portrayed, respondents felt it was typically done inadequately.

In the United States, 69 percent of viewers feel that the entertainment industry perpetuates religious stereotypes and sensationalizes religious identity. This sentiment is echoed globally, with 63 percent of respondents expressing similar views.

Presenting their findings during the inaugural Spirituality & Faith in Entertainment Breakfast in Los Angeles on Feb. 13, the Faith and Media Initiative discussed the study’s implications. Dritan Nesho, CEO of HarrisX, explained that the study builds upon the 2022 Global Faith and Media Study, which highlighted shifts in media coverage of spirituality, faith, and religion.

According to Nesho, there has been a decline in the media’s ability to cover these topics effectively. He pointed out that people often turn to entertainment rather than news for learning opportunities.

However, the Global Faith and Entertainment Study also revealed a significant demand for positive spiritual content in entertainment. Respondents expressed a desire for more uplifting themes rather than the common negative portrayals of conflict, power, and war seen in films and TV shows.

Nesho sees this unmet consumer need as both a business opportunity and a chance to foster better understanding among people of different beliefs, especially in today’s conflict-driven world.

Several celebrities, including Rainn Wilson and Hilary Swank, discussed the role of religion in film and television during the Spirituality & Faith in Entertainment Breakfast. Swank stars in the upcoming film ‘Ordinary Angels,’ based on the true story of Sharon Steves, a recovering alcoholic who finds renewed purpose through faith.

Swank emphasized the film’s portrayal of the power of community and acts of service. Wilson, known for his role in ‘The Office’ and his involvement in the Baha’i Faith, shared his own journey with spirituality in the media and highlighted the importance of exploring these themes.

Wilson, who co-founded the media company SoulPancake, sees storytelling as a way to explore the human condition and promote positivity and understanding.

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