LOS ANGELES (Christian Examiner) – Two years after "God's Not Dead" sparked a nationwide discussion about hostility against Christians on college campuses, the film's sequel, "God's Not Dead 2," is set to launch a debate about another controversial issue – religious freedom in public schools.
The newest movie – which opens April 1 — tells the story of history teacher Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart), who is asked by a student about the similarity in the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus. The teacher gives an honest answer but soon finds herself in hot water due to the student's atheist parents and an unsupportive school board, which demands that she apologize for interjecting religion into the classroom.
When the teacher stands her ground, she is sued.
Producer and actor David A.R. White told the Christian Examiner that "God's Not Dead 2" had a much bigger budget than its predecessor, which surprised Hollywood by opening in the Top 5 and ending its run with a gross of $60 million.
"Anytime you have success, you owe it to everybody to get better," White told the Christian Examiner. "The first one we made on a shoestring budget, and it was amazing and remarkable what came out of that movie. But with this one, we really felt like we needed to up it in every way if we were going to do a sequel. It had to be better, in every way. I believe that we did that. The response has been tremendous with all of the pre-screenings. We're excited to share it with the world."
"God's Not Dead 2" also includes Sadie Robertson, Robin Givens, Pat Boone, Mike Huckabee, and the late actor Fred Thompson. The Newsboys also make an appearance.
Christian Examiner spoke with White about the newest movie's message and his goals for it. Following is a transcript:
Christian Examiner: When did you begin think about a "God's Not Dead 2"?
White: After "God's Not Dead," we started monitoring people's reaction to it and their excitement about it, and also all the testimonies that came in because of it. The movie really took on a life of its own, and it dealt with current topics going on right now — about Christian liberties and discrimination of beliefs. And right around there was when we thought, "You know, we probably should do another one, because we have another story to tell."
CE: The specific case in the movie that is spotlighted has never happened. But do you think it's far-fetched that it could happen in the future?
White: No, I don't think it's far-fetched at all. That's one thing the writers are really good at – seeing what is happening and staying ahead of it. Even with the first one, with the subject of discrimination in college, and how real that it is. And people came up to us and said they had the exact same thing happen to them.
CE: What are you hoping this film accomplishes? Perhaps spark a discussion about religious liberty?
White: We hope it sparks conversation, absolutely. One thing that was so great about the first film is that people started digging into apologetics. They started digging into: Why do they really believe what they believe? We hope the same thing happens here. There's a whole educational side of these movies. We have people like Lee Strobel, who, of course, wrote "The Case For Christ." The movie deals with such pivotal foundation points for what we believe as Christians. And so the idea is for people to build off of that and have Bible studies and start taking about that. We're hoping it becomes a learning tool.
CE: What were you looking for in a cast?
White: First, we have very good casting directors. We pray a lot about who is supposed to be in the films, and we've seen the Lord work in so many different ways, how He's impacted people's lives – simply during the filming. For example, Brian Bosworth out of our movie "Revelation Road," became a believer. Cybill Shepherd publicly stated many times that "Do You Believe" helped her faith grow in so many ways. In the newest movie ["God's Not Dead 2"], some of them are newer believers – I really can't say who – but it strengthened them. And another actor said he had a lot of hurt from Christians in his life, and this film softened his heart to the hope that is found in Jesus Christ.