When 46-year-old Christian filmmaker Dallas Jenkins embarked on his viral sensation, “The Chosen,” he had no idea that he would end up creating the largest crowd-funded project in the history of the entertainment industry. Most of his previous movies had found mainstream studio distribution, but Hollywood wasn’t interested in a multi-season series about the life of Jesus. So Jenkins and his team set out to realize their vision via other means, including creating their own app. They succeeded in spades.
“The Chosen’s” view counter currently sits at approximately 238 million.
Recently, establishment media began taking notice of the series, with The Atlantic calling it “as well made and entertaining as many network dramas.” To illustrate the show’s success, the outlet pointed to its Easter Sunday, Season 2 premiere that drew 750,000 viewers — not much less than HBO’s critically-acclaimed, star-studded prestige drama, “Mare of Easttown.”
The Daily Wire spoke with Jenkins this week about “The Chosen” and how Christian, conservative artists can circumvent Tinsel Town gatekeepers. This is an edited and tightened version of our interview.
DW: The Atlantic recently published a story pointing out that your ratings rival prestige series one would find on cable channels and major streaming platforms, yet most legacy outlets haven’t yet reviewed it or covered it as a culture story. Why do you think that is?
JENKINS: I don’t want to create a boogeyman or conspiracy theory about it. I think that, by and large, the show hasn’t entered their radar because they don’t know a whole lot about it. It’s not on one of the major streaming platforms or major networks, and it doesn’t fit the typical narrative.
It’s just not something that they’re going to be passionate about or that all that interested in. And I’m fine with that. I don’t care about that affirmation. I just care about reaching the people who want to see the show.
DW: We hear a lot of complaints about Hollywood gatekeepers and their ideological motivations for greenlighting certain productions or including certain content. What has your experience taught you about getting around that?
JENKINS: Well, I for sure faced hurdles as an outsider. Politically and spiritually, I’m in the extreme minority in Hollywood. When I was making movies for 20 years within Hollywood circles, even my most successful movies were niche.
And even when a gatekeeper likes your movie and wants to distribute it, they see it as a limited opportunity. It’s, “We’re going to have this movie that goes specifically to a niche, church crowd — a crowd that we don’t necessarily understand. But we’re certainly willing to see it succeed because we like success.” So I never really felt like one of my projects was going to have an opportunity to just be treated like a normal project. That said, I’m not one to believe that just because some of my movies never reached significant mainstream success means that there was some conspiracy against it. I just think [laughs] maybe I wasn’t good enough yet.
But I had reached a point in my career where I just didn’t care about that. And this opportunity that we have, because of crowdfunding, because of building our own app, allowed us to not have to worry about anything. We didn’t have to worry about [being] canceled, didn’t have to worry about notes from a studio. We didn’t have to worry about tailoring the message so that it didn’t turn anybody off.
DW: I have to admit, I sometimes hear a lot of bitterness from creative Christians and conservatives — that because they have the worldview they do, they can’t be successful artists. Your response?
JENKINS: I’m a libertarian. I believe in a free market system. It’s not like the government is keeping people from making the movies or shows they want to make. That may change in the future, but for now, there’s nothing stopping you from doing it yourself. Expecting another system, especially a system that is made up of primarily people who don’t understand your audience and don’t necessarily agree with you on anything, it’s like — why do you want their approval? Why do you want them to lower their scepter and open the gates to you, and why are you relying on them for your own success?
Hollywood was founded in the first place by people who decided to create something themselves. There’s no reason [Christians and conservatives] can’t do the same.
DW: One of the things you often hear people say about “The Chosen” is that the story feels real, Jesus feels real, in a way you don’t typically find in faith-themed films and shows. Why have you been able to create a sense of authenticity where other religious productions haven’t?
JENKINS: Our goal from day one, our operating principle was authenticity. It’s the word that was plastered along the walls of the building of this project. And it’s a response in many ways to the majority of Jesus productions that I’ve seen.
I grew up seeing all of them, and some of them were fun to watch. But most of them felt distant; they felt emotionally barren. I didn’t feel like I knew any of the people that were following Jesus, the movie didn’t allow me to get to know them. The Jesus was typically almost a live-action version of a stained-glass window or a painting. I decided early on that I was going use Scripture as my primary source of inspiration and truth, but there are so many things that happened that aren’t in Scripture, so many conversations that took place. And as long as I’m not violating the character and intentions of Jesus in the Gospels, I feel free to explore what that would have looked like. And I’m going to portray Jesus and his followers as human beings.
I know that sounds really simple. But for whatever reason, it just is rarely done.
DW: Why do you think that is?
JENKINS: I think part of it has been people’s fear to ever stray outside of this kind of verse by verse approach. I love the Scriptures. The Scriptures are the primary source of inspiration and truth for the show, as I said, but once you feel that freedom to say, alright, you know, what is it like for Jesus and his disciples to dance together at a wedding? Or to tell jokes, and to have normal conversations about what this life is? We decided we wanted to explore that.
Seeing the backstory of someone whose life is impacted by Jesus allows the viewer to say, “I could have been there. Two thousand years ago, people had the same problems, the same questions, the same struggles that I do.” When you actually can connect to that — when you can see that and feel that and believe it — you can perhaps believe that the answer is the same for you as it was for them.
DW: I have heard from many people who have been disappointed with big Hollywood productions about Noah or Moses. They love “The Chosen” and hope you’ll take on other Bible stories. Any plans for that?
JENKINS: [Chuckling] Well, we do incorporate snippets from other parts of the Bible, including the Old Testament, because of course one of the cool things about the Bible is that those stories are very much part of Jesus’ overall story. And so we love connecting scenes from the Old Testament into the show.
But right now, all I’m focused on is season three of “The Chosen.” But if God wants me to tell Jesus stories, or Bible stories, the rest of my life, I could do a whole lot worse. So when “The Chosen” is over, I’m going to take a nap for about a year.
Then, if we want to continue, and if the audience really wants us to continue, and I feel like God is calling me to go into the book of Acts, or to tell some Old testament Stories, that would be awesome. I mean, I really want the rest of my life to be spent introducing people to Jesus or to the Bible in some way, wherever they are at on their faith journey, whether they’re unbelievers or not. I’d be happy if I didn’t have a job beyond that.