Originally conceived as a real gamble with uncertain outcomes, The Chosen has turned out to be such a popular TV series that it has become world famous. The episodes released so far have had over 450 million views worldwide and an average rating of 9.3/10 from IMDb users, the premiere movie website. With this article, we thought we would introduce the series to our readers who have not yet seen it.
The Chosen: how the idea came about
The origins of The Chosen go back to Christmas Eve 2017, when Dallas Jenkins, an evangelical filmmaker, posted a short film online about a shepherd’s imaginary visit to the stable in Bethlehem. His idea was to produce a seven-season television series on the life of Christ, free from Hollywood money and pressure, and instead being fully financed through crowdfunding, which is the sort of fundraising that anyone can contribute to – even if just a small donation.
That’s how, in 2019, Jenkins was able to air the first season. The amount of funds raised already exceeds $40 million, the highest a crowdfunded TV series has ever earned. According to The Economist, which extensively studied this financial phenomenon, The Chosen is a case that unquestionably reveals the popularity and profitability that Christian entertainment still has.
The basic idea is to tell about the Jesus of the Gospels, through a wealth of details, events, and facts. The Chosen, for several reasons, has little to do with the more famous film productions of the life of Christ. It clearly does not have the financial means of the major film studios, but the series is quite well done both in its screenwriting and its filming of historical settings. The level of acting is high, never forced, and the psychology of the characters brilliantly showcased. It is not difficult to become attached to the apostles, whose stories are told so well that the slow pace, offset by the directorial use of a moving camera, is only a detail.
The first TV series about Jesus
The TV series on the life of Jesus, The Chosen, is the first of its kind. The story of Jesus of Nazareth is told not only from the point of view of the main character, but also from the point of view of his disciples, who are the co-protagonists. The series chooses to highlight the secondary characters in the story, such as Mary Magdalene, the apostles, Nicodemus, and the Samaritan woman, showcasing their humanity and personal limitations, with naiveté, enthusiasm, and expectations of this special Teacher whose thought process and goals they, at times, struggle to understand.
This choice undoubtedly helps the viewer to identify with them, which is consistent with the director’s obvious goal to evangelize the audience of major movie streaming platforms with a popular product that they can get excited about.
According to Amber Williams, actress in the cast, in an interview with Aleteia, “The Chosen looks at Jesus from a different perspective because we see his life through those around him: his disciples and other characters. We also see Jesus in a different, more human, more familiar light. We see him carving wood, brushing his teeth, joking, laughing, etc. He is a Jesus with whom one can easily identify. That’s why I think The Chosen is appealing to so many.”
Like any artistic work, The Chosen inevitably reflects the culture of those who produced it: in certain details and in the promotional style, there’s an impression of the typical American way of understanding Christianity. But otherwise, it is a project of ecumenical value as well, having been conceptualized by a group of people from various Christian denominations. One example is Jonathan Roumie, the actor who plays Jesus, an Orthodox who converted to Catholicism as an adult. Another significant example is that of Noah James, a Jew who plays the disciple Andrew, who iterates, “This project required us to work harder than in other films, but the final satisfaction, when the filming was over, was so beautiful, almost a blessing (…) Beyond the religious aspect, it was a great opportunity to learn the teachings of Christ and share them with all the other characters in the series.”
The character of Mary Magdalene
Among the characters in the series, we cannot overlook one of the closest followers of the Teacher of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene, played by Elizabeth Tabish, an actress who holds a Master of Arts in Theatre and a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies from Oklahoma State University. Speaking to Aleteia, a Catholic news site, about what it was like to play the iconic role of Mary Magdalene, Tabish said, “I was on the verge of quitting acting because I wasn’t making much money from my job doing commercials, and I was living with my mother […]. My dream was to be an actress, and when my agency told me about this show and I read the script, I kind of felt that it was written for me, because that was all I had wanted in a film project. My character is emotionally complicated, but it was a means to express what I was feeling at the time. This project changed me and saved my life. Mary Magdalene means a lot to me. I have auditioned for other projects, but I don’t know if I am really interested in them. I had this experience that touched me so much that I don’t know how anything else could compare to it […]. I am so grateful that this series shows brilliant female characters in their authenticity and humanity, without being seen as objects. That’s very rare in cinema, and for that we are all grateful.”
The fourth season
Since the release of its first episode, The Chosen has come a long way and is now in its fourth season. When this series was thought up, no one could have imagined the great success it has since become. Neal Harmon, head of Angel Studios, the platform of the TV series who wanted free streaming at all costs, explained that, so far, several million viewers have seen The Chosen on their free app and streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, and YouTube.
Angel Studios has released the first two episodes of the new season in U.S. theaters, already taking third place at the box office, beating Black Adam, a superhero movie, and Ticket to Paradise, a romantic comedy starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.