Friday, September 17, 2021

Exec. Prod. of Faith-based Drama ‘The Chosen’ (Derral Eves) Addresses Show’s Controversy – Urges You to Watch Season 2 Finale Tonight

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In ‘The Chosen,’ Jonathan Roumie plays Jesus of Nazareth giving the Sermon on the Mount. Photo Courtesy: Angel Studio.

*From the first day Jesus of Nazareth pierced into the earth over 2,000 years ago, supernatural phenomena faithfully trail the dust of his heels. Without a doubt, once His name is brought up in conversations, or if He is the topic of books, movies, or television shows, He evokes an innate reaction in both believers and non-believers alike.

The immense success of the first-ever multi-season television show “The Chosen” rides the waves of the brilliance of Christ, and it is evident that people really dig the Nazarene.  The show is the number one highest crowd-funded project of all time, raising $10 million from over 19,000 investors.  The Producers translated the show into over 50 languages, and viewers have watched the episodes over 200 million times using the show’s downloadable app and watching seasons one and two online for free.

NBC’s Peacock streaming service added season one of “The Chosen” and other faith-based cable networks also syndicate the show like BYUtv, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and UPtv. 

The television drama was created, directed, and co-written by filmmaker Dallas Jenkins and it follows Jesus and his tribe of 12 disciples as they prepare to set the world on fire with the gospel.  Jenkins and his team of writers set an elevated level of storytelling that allows the nature of scripture to come alive in a dramatic, inspiring, humorous, and relatable fashion which is the crux of the show’s popularity.

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Dallas Jenkins, creator, director, and writer of The Chosen. Photo Courtesy: Angel Studios.

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“Get used to different.” The cast of The Chosen. Photo Courtesy: Angel Studios.

However, before Jenkins could bask in the light of success, he experienced the dark valley of disappointment and the potential end of his once-promising film career.  His movie, the “Resurrection of Gavin Stone,” was positioned as the film that would be the key to his Hollywood success for faith-based films. But when opening weekend box office numbers rolled, Jenkins found them strikingly dismal.  Rejected by his once business partners and reeling from self-doubt, Jenkins found comfort in his wife, and they spent the night crying and praying for God’s guidance.

Jenkins recalls in a recorded Livestream video posted on“The Chosen” Facebook page, “God spoke to my wife very powerfully and clearly about the story of the feeding of the 5,000 and the phrase, ‘I do impossible math.'” The moment sustained them for the day, but they were confused with the meaning and were concerned about their future.  Around four in the morning, he received a message from one of his Facebook friends named Alex; a man did not know too well at the time, telling Jenkins to “Remember, it’s no your job to feed the 5,000. Your job is [to] bring your bread and fish.” This confirmation changed Jenkins’s life. A couple of months later, he created a short film for his church’s Christmas Eve service that told the story of the birth of Christ from the perspective of the shepherds suitably titled “The Shephard.” Around this time, he came up with an idea for a television show and thought the life of Christ would be an interesting concept to develop.  He shot the short film on his friend’s farm in Illinois behind his barn.

In 2017, the film found its way into the hands of Derral Eves, founder of Vid Summit, an annual conference for prominent YouTubers held in Los Angeles.   His friend Jeffery Harmon attended the conference and showed him Jenkins’s video. Eves connected with the storytelling and thought the film was incredible. The following week Harmon introduced Eves to Dallas Jenkins, who told him his idea for a television series that would explore the ministry of Jesus Christ through the perspectives of those that He called to follow Him.

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Derral Eves, Executive Producer of hit faith-based drama “The Chosen.” Photo Courtesy: Angel Studios.

Eves immediately was sold, and later that day, both men agreed to become business partners.  With no available capital and no social following, all they had was faith and Jenkins’s vision. Eves built a career on cultivating online audience development for content creators, which included generating views and getting people to engage with online content.

“That’s the path we went on, and we needed to get our message out. Dallas started becoming the face of ‘The Chosen,’ and we raised the money [for the project] and produced season one,” says Eves.  The show became a global hit, a tremendous victory for the intrepid duo.

He attributes the popularity of the show to multiple factors, “When you watch anything of the life of Jesus Christ, it is usually King James English, and it’s a white guy trying to play Jesus. The bulk of our actors playing the disciples are from or descendants of the Middle East or the surrounding areas, we have one from Egypt and one from India. What’s funny is even some of the actors grew up in the towns that we are featuring in the show,” says Eves.  Actor Shahar Isaac, who plays Simon Peter, was born in Israel and grew up in Capernaum. “Having that is key this is something that Dallas is a master at is he understands authenticity sells,” he affirms.

“The Chosen” envisions what first-century Israel would look like, even down to the actual characteristics of the people. Unlike what is commonly shown in other films featuring white men with blue eyes that more likely leaned towards what the Romans would have looked like Eves pointedly argues.

Another aspect that touches many viewers of the show is watching the humanity of Jesus, played by Jonathan Roumie, who comes across as approachable and affable. The show also unfolds and provides layered backstories of the disciples to understand further their place in scripture and how they came to follow Jesus.

“He called people that weren’t perfect, that we’re sinners, but they were able to find Jesus and start to transform. To see where Jesus led his ministry and publicly announcing his mission and that He’s the Messiah to the woman at the well.  A Samaritan who is the enemy of the Jews, and then starting His ministry in Samaria; this was very disruptive and just following that pattern and seeing the stories of what could be plausible. Because you know that Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along, they fought for thousands of years and showing a little bit of that conflict it gives a bit more meaning to the scriptures as we go into the gospels,” explains Eves.

Making “The Chosen” a multi-series television series instead of a full-length film was a choice that Jenkins made.  Both Eves and Jenkins are huge fans of character development and enjoy stories where viewers can spend time on a character. “You can never give a character justice in a two-hour movie [but] you can do it in seven seasons. There are multiple episodes that you can explore the depth [of a character] because I love to see how people respond in certain situations, we love shows like that, and this is a perfect match for that for sure,” he says. The show’s nuanced storytelling has resonated with viewers worldwide; religious people and atheists, and non-religious individuals engage with the show’s relatable theme and honest display of humanity.

“These are historical humans, and we can go back and validate that they walked the face of the earth. There’s that understanding, here’s humanity, and how it was in first-century Israel. We are not preaching; we are not trying to convert them; we are trying to tell a story. It’s been a blessing to see the impact that “The Chosen” has on individuals to turn them to the source, which is the Bible, and it’s not for everyone, but it’s good content that people can share,” says Eves. He humbly brags that anyone that experiences it can identify with the struggles of many of the characters like Nicodemus, a religious leader who contends with the stringent Jewish traditions and beliefs upheld by the Pharisees while being confronted with the liberating concepts of salvation that Jesus imbues.

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Nicodemus, played by Erick Avari, is in turmoil fighting between Jewish traditions and the desire to follow Jesus Christ. Photo Courtesy: Angel Studios.

“My goal and my mission since day one was [to create] content that connects with the rising generations of teenagers and people in their twenties. We wanted to create content that they could get behind, something that wasn’t that perfect, polished, religious piece of content but [something] that was raw, gritty, real, and that shows the human side, all the good, the bad, and everything in between,” says Eves. With the show’s audience increasing every day, he unquestionably understood the sanctified assignment and noted the people discovering it are in the Gen Z demographic. The younger millennial demographic are watching it with their parents and pulling in the whole family. He emphatically points out, “I do want to state this because this is important, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a multi-generational viewing audience, mothers, fathers, and grandmothers watching it with [their children and grandkids.”

I’ve seen the effects even in my family. Upon viewing season one, episode eight, where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, he tells her there will come a day where barriers will be broken.  She later responds, “I am rejected by others,” Jesus’ replies, “I know…but not by the Messiah.” His line alone sent shivers down my father’s spine and brought tears to my eyes. Sadly, this poignant exchange buries deep in relevancy in today’s culture, considering how some people are treated as social pariahs. Black people have to hit the streets in present-day American culture, decrying how our lives matter constantly. Yet the conservative Christian right is hell-bent on building walls to keep out immigrants despite Christ instructing us to love one another as He loves us. Or the rise of Asian hate derived from the blame that China created the Coronavirus, the deadly affliction that spread throughout the whole world. Jesus’ words stating the end of human interpersonal conflict is like water to a parched soul. “The Chosen” powerfully demonstrates that the separation that we inflict on one another, whether it is socially, economically, or through class distinction, race, gender, or creed, will not exist within a loving and compassionate Jesus. The relatability of the character’s doubt, confusion, struggles, and ultimate redemption is what continues to draw watchers to the program.

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Actress Vanessa DeSilvio plays the Samaritan woman at the well who rejoices at meeting the Messiah. Photo Courtesy: Angel Studio.

Curiously, while the series has struck a chord with the audience, it’s not without controversy.  Many self-professing believers took issue with episode five. Some viewers were irked watching Jesus rehearse a sermon, how casual the conversation that Jesus had with His cousin John the Baptist, and watching the character of Mary Magdalene backslide.

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Actress Elizabeth Tabish as Mary Magdalene in the series “The Chosen.” Photo Courtesy: Angel Studios.

Some critics accuse the show of promoting a feminist agenda by depicting Mary Magdalene leading prayer and reading Scripture before a Sabbath dinner, which would be prohibited in first-century Jewish culture. It is debatable if Jesus would be labeled a feminist, but he did empower women throughout His ministry. If the show portrays Mary Magdalene as breaking traditional and social norms, which would perfectly coincide with the nature of Christ. He recognized women were considered outliers of society and sought to uplift them. Christ accepted various scorned women like the Samaritan woman at the well, the prostitute, the adulteress. He was born of a woman, whereas He could’ve just supernaturally appeared to humankind. If anything, Christ supports and respects women, and it is not out of line if the writers enhance a woman’s presence in his ministry.

In addition, Mary Magdalene played a significant role in the life of Jesus, His death, and Resurrection. She witnessed the Crucifixion, she visited Jesus’s empty tomb on Easter Sunday according to the Gospel of John, and the most significant occurrence is Jesus appears to her first and not his male followers after his Resurrection. He tells Mary to notify His disciples of his return (John 20:1-13), which is noteworthy.

Another contention expressed by the blog Growth 4 Life is that Mary is considered “the 13th disciple” traveling with Jesus and His disciples. The writer challenges the ideas stating that it would be “culturally and morally inappropriate for a single woman to travel around with a bunch of men and her virtue and the intentions of Jesus and the disciples would have been called into question.” Yet, in the book of Luke, it records as one of the earliest followers of Jesus of Nazareth, and she was part of a group of women that traveled with Him and his 12 disciples or apostles, “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 8:1-3).”

Robert Cargill, assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa and editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, clarifies that “She was named in the Gospels, so she obviously was important. There were apparently hundreds, if not thousands, of followers of Jesus, but we don’t know most of their names. So the fact that she’s named is a big deal.”

Mary’s interaction with Jesus is well-documented in The Gospel of Mary, a text from the second century A.D. discovered in Egypt in 1896.  The manuscripts position “Mary Magdalene above Jesus’s male disciples in knowledge and influence. She also featured prominently in the so-called Gnostic Gospels, a group of texts believed to have been written by early Christians as far back as the second century A.D., but not discovered until 1945, near the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi.”

“Mary appears to have been a disciple of Jesus,” Cargill concludes. “What’s important is that Jesus had both male and female disciples in his ministry, which was not necessarily common at the time.”

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Mary Magdalene receives deliverance from Jesus Christ. Photo Courtesy: Angel Studios.

Lastly, any scriptural inconsistencies present in “The Chosen” should not be reviled by believers of the Gospels; instead, use them as tools to explain further the scriptures rather than just shutting the whole show out and discouraging people from watching it. Even though the creators did put a disclaimer that they did take creative liberties with the source material, they encourage everyone to read the Gospels for themselves. Issues like Jesus speaking with Nicodemus and asking him, “What does your heart say?” can be used to illustrate the verse (Jeremiah 17:9). Many people have confessed that they have become more devout in following Jesus despite the criticisms.

When asked about how he felt the criticisms, Eves understands the valid points to the backlash. Still, people need to remember the series is not the Bible or a replacement of the Bible, “The word of God is the word of God, and that’s where we need to go for truth, and we’re a television show.”  While he respects the concerns raised by some viewers, he hits back, “If you are telling me the story of Mary backsliding a little doesn’t create reality, then we need to stop and think about it. Because even though we become followers of Jesus doesn’t mean we will be perfect [or] we are going to walk sinless. What we put into her backstory was the PTSD of being assaulted by Romans. Anyone who has PTSD can relate.”

The writers address why they wrote Mary’s traumatic encounter with a Roman guard as a bonus feature on the soon-to-be-released season two DVD. There is a recorded Livestream video where one of the writers discusses his addiction to alcohol and how specific triggers can cause people to fall off the wagon.

“What I love about the story is not what happened in episode five but what happened in episode six, that Jesus sent out two of His disciples to go find [Mary]. Yes, he could’ve done it Himself, but He took two people that didn’t like each other to find someone He cared about and seeing them discover and navigate that [interaction and] help Mary understand that we’re all making mistakes and we are all sinners, and we need Him, we need Jesus. I think that’s the narrative there,” says Eves.

Regarding the matter of Jesus preparing for His sermon, Eves surmises, “I know that there are certain assumptions that we make because of what we’ve been told and what we perceive we understand. But suppose you have ever given a sermon to people. In that case, you are thinking of the people you are delivering that to, I don’t believe, and this is my thoughts and people can disagree with that, but I don’t believe that people would go and do it and not think about the people that they are trying to impact. I see the human side of Jesus coming out. He always has the divine side, and He is divine in human form, but he’s also the Son of Man.” When they take scenes from the Bible, they are accurate to that account, he states, and anything that happens before or after is not in the Bible and is just a plausible backstory. He makes it known that they are not adding or taking away from the Bible, and there are many details that the show covers that are not in the original written word, nor are they claiming any backstories they invented are there. Still, he drives home the point that they are merely a television show. “If we are encouraging people to open the word of God and to validate there, then that’s what we want.” Eves is grateful that these issues have come to the forefront because he teases that audiences will see a deeper level of humanity during the season finale.

“I can promise you this if anyone was on the fence saying was this even plausible that Jesus would do something like that, we took a little bit of creative liberty weaving in the importance of the words of the Sermon on Mount and what was said and the order of [why] it was said. Once you see it, it’s going to change perspectives of people either sitting on the fence and the people [that are steadfast to the letter of scripture].”

He goes on to say, “The path we are going on is [revealing that] Jesus was human and that He was the Son of Man and that he also had human relationships, but he was perfect, he was sinless. That is something that we will never cross because that was the reality.  When you see the thought process of the finale, many will be moved to tears because all the episodes that lead up to that moment have a lot more context of why it was so important and who He was speaking to, and it’s a beautiful thing.  I can’t wait for the world to see that.”

The season finale will Livestream tonight (07-11-21) at 8 pm EST via “The Chosen” app, Facebook Live, and website watch.angelstudios.com/thechosen. Afterward, there will be a Q&A with a surprise cast member and guest speaker, Pastor Levi Lusko, and updates on season three.

Follow “The Chosen” promotional hashtag #BingeJesus and their socials Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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