Martin Luther King actor says faith-based films often not 'well-acted'

by Kelly Ledbetter, |

LOS ANGELES (Christian Examiner) – David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma (2014) and escaped convict Brian Nichols in Captive (2015), has a vision for Christianity in Hollywood.

Rather than belonging to a separate category of faith-based films, Christian artists to be so ubiquitous, Oyelowo says, that there is no sharp line between films with an evangelistic purpose and films that are created to be artistic.

In an interview in Relevant, Oyelowo described his views on a Christian's role in filmmaking.

"We've had so many faith-based movies that I think are sub-par, I almost want a new phrase for them," he said.

While Oyelowo praised the message of faith-based movies, he admitted such films are often "not well acted, it's not well written, and really no one outside of this church would be interested in it."

To him, Christians are missing a great opportunity to share the message of Christ outside an already churchgoing audience by producing high quality films with a meaningful message that may not be as allegorical as a typical faith-based film.

Ultimately, he wants Christians who are "fantastically good artistically, creatively, and have a vision beyond a core Christian audience" to be the ones instrumental in creating films.


An example of such a film is Selma, which shares Martin Luther King, Jr.'s quest for racial equality amidst social conflict.

Oyelowo related to Christianity Today some of his experiences making the film that revealed God's hand on his work.

In searching for a pulpit to borrow for a set, the production designer found King's actual pulpit in the basement of a Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, undisturbed for 50 years.

"I had always known that I couldn't play Dr. King purely out of my own ability as an actor," Oyelowo said. "When you look at him give those speeches, you can tell that he is taken up by something other than himself. He is flowing with an anointing that is directly from God. You can't act that—you've just got to pray that a similar spirit flows through you."

Oyelowo prayed with film crews before key takes, including many of King's speeches.

"There were definitely times when he's [King is] giving the speeches, or even just in ordinary scenes, where I felt God very close to me," Oyelowo said.


This year, Oyelowo starred in and produced Captive, based on a true story of Ashley Smith Robinson, a woman who reads Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Life to her kidnapper, who eventually turned himself in.

Oyelowo was attracted to the gritty reality of the story: the kidnapping victim was a meth addict, and the kidnapper was a brutal murderer.

"The thing that drew me to it is the realness of it," he told Relevant. "You have a murderer and a meth addict, but it's completely reframed."

He strove to avoid glorifying or glamorizing the main characters, a difficult task. "Not only was it [Captive] the truth of what being a meth addict and a murderer means, but it was a true story," he said.

He wanted the film to portray a forceful message about redemption but reflect the reality of the humans at the center. Basing the film on a true story "means you couldn't be accused of being preachy if you're telling the story in an artistically creative and integrous way, because this is what happened."

Captive, released three weeks after War Room, differed from the immensely successful Christian drama in that it did not specifically target a Christian audience.


Born in England to Nigerian parents, Oyelowo graduated from the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and has appeared in plays, independent films, television series, blockbusters, and award-winners. He and his wife Jessica live in Los Angeles with their four children.

Oyelowo's vast experience in entertainment has shown him what Christians desire and what Hollywood desires are not necessarily inimical.

"I can now try to marry Hollywood's desire to get to a faith-based audience, and try to get us as people of faith wanting to have films made that have broader reach and have high production value."

Oyelowo has a calling to participate in quality films that will further conversation about Christ.

"I'm definitely an example of God using the foolish things of this world to confound the wise," he said . "I know I've been given these opportunities for a reason."