Blessing is not a word most people would associate with 2020. However, one blessing nestled within this cursed past year is Minari. An empathic, open-hearted and inviting film, Minari is also a Christian film.
A Christian film receiving six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture? No, those trumpets playing are not from the book of Revelation. During normal award seasons, quality films compete in tuxedoed Hunger Games for eyeballs and exaltation. With so many films being delayed, and award season being extended, more films were given a chance. Minari’s spotlight shines potential paths of cultural relevance for future Christian films.
Like any genre, faith-based films have a recipe. It is a profitable and studio approved recipe of clean stories for hungry families living on contaminated soil. Minari has similar ingredients but also shows what it is missing from more formulaic films. In order to manifest his dream of becoming a farmer, Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) moves his family to a farm in Arkansas. The weight of his ambition fissures his marriage. His wife (Han Ye-ri) implores him to not put his dream above his family’s reality, including caring for their young son suffering from a heart murmur. On top of Jacob’s failings as a husband, he also wrestles with pride, leading to missteps with managing his farm.
Any viewer can understand getting older and seeing a field of dreams becoming destitute. Any viewer can empathize with picking the shards of broken dreams out of their skin. Jacob’s multilayered tussle with failure dramatizes our own deficiencies. Many faith films are committed to showing glory while skirting around our fallenness. Minari’s willingness to add man’s fallenness to its ingredients of themes brings out a rich flavor for audiences.
Minari also does not subscribe to colorblindness. In order to reel in a wide swath of moviegoers, the recipe for faith-based films (and mainstream blockbusters) requires an adherence to and observance of majority culture. In many ways, this limits a movie’s universal appeal. Minari is a quintessential American story told through the eyes of a Korean family. Most of the film’s dialogue is spoken in Korean (the film’s writer and director, Lee Isaac Chung, is of Korean descent). This is underlined in one scene showing the Yi’s visiting an all-white church. The family’s curiously awkward but sweet interactions with church members do not rely on easy stereotypes or cliched humor. Character’s differences and dignity are acknowledged. Like all great films, Minari uses its specific story world to communicate universal emotions.
Minari joins an expanding variety of faith films released over the last few years like Silence, A Hidden Life and Hacksaw Ridge. Despite having different ingredients, Christian films should be as accessible as their secular counterparts. This is necessary to help satisfy the tastebuds of non-believers. Don’t just take my word for it. In a recent review of Netflix’s Christian film, A Week Away, The Guardian’s Adrian Horton wrote:
“Netflix will always play for wider audiences by mining every niche, including America’s relatively siloed Christian content subculture. Films centered on faith can be empathetic, open-hearted, inviting, and I say that as an admittedly skeptical secular viewer.”