Projecting Dignity

by Dan Rupple

Each year, as I consider films to see at the Sundance Film Festival, I find myself giving preference to the documentaries. To be cinematically transported to foreign cultures and exposed to the beauty and pain of others’ experiences can be transformative.

One such film was War Dance, chronicling the story of three Ugandan refugee children whose lives are torn apart by war and then brought together as they prepare to take part in a nationwide music and dance competition. In the filmmaker’s juxtaposition between the atrocities and resilience of the human spirit, he brought such dignity and honor to these children who were trying to make sense of life in a world far dissimilar to mine. This produced in me an empathy, admiration, and respect for people and places of which I was previously unaware.

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Proverbs 14:31)

One of the most powerful lyrics ever written comes from “O Holy Night” in the phrase, “Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.” When Jesus Christ left the glory of heaven and visited this soiled world, He brought unmerited dignity to all of mankind. Sinful human beings were given worth, demonstrated by the simple fact that our righteous Creator chose to come to us. Jesus brought dignity by dining with the vilified tax collector, granting mercy to the accused adulterous woman, and allowing the sinful woman to wet his feet with her tears. Without condoning or overlooking the damage caused by wrong or immoral behavior, Jesus first restores dignity to the brokenhearted—they are welcomed by God. And His goodness leads to their repentance.

Atticus Finch: “If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.” (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Movies are a powerful medium, granting the viewer entry into the world of someone else. When a filmmaker appears in the life of the “other” with a lens of dignity, it can make beautiful strides in acknowledging the intrinsic value that God places on every human being.

Conversely, a camera can be a powerful weapon of destruction when used to project a skewed, derogatory, unfair stereotype that brings with it ridicule and scorn, degrading an individual or people group.

The filmmaker has to decide, “Am I going to use my camera to ultimately illuminate or to degrade?”

Behind the camera, increasingly we hear heartbreaking accounts of individuals, usually in a place of power, holding the dignity of others hostage. We see it reflected in personal stories of sexual violations, vile verbal slurs, racial discrimination, and many more displays of human degradation.

The treatment of others as objects to be used for “my needs,” rather than individuals who are fearfully and wonderfully made by their Holy Creator, is fueled in part by the erroneous thinking that by lowering someone else’s value, I will increase my own self-worth.

And the deep harm brought to a life by these assaults on an individual is having a ripple effect on so many others within the media and entertainment industry. I hear tragic stories of media professionals losing their jobs and livelihood literally overnight, due to cancellations caused by the cruel actions of the star of their show or the head of their production company.

Of course these issues are not unique to the film industry. Tragically, they can be found throughout this fallen world in most industries, organizations, and communities. But the level of belittling seems to be on the rise, particularly on social media. This growing onslaught of ugliness is eroding the fabric of our society. There is a meanness to our cultural conversation.

How desperately we need the love of God to fill our hearts, allowing us to see and treat our fellow man in the same manner that God sees and treats each one of us!

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3: 3-5)

Appearing at the office door of a media executive, grabbing a cup of coffee with a film producer, praying with a media professional whose life has gone off the rails—all these lie at the heart of Mastermedia.

Our hope and intent is to project the kindness and love of God in a manner that reflects the invaluable price that God Himself paid in order to restore us—and those we serve—back into relationship with our Creator.