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Michael Foust

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

The same media entrepreneurs who created VidAngel, Dry Bar Company and the hit series The Chosen are launching a crowdfunded movie studio that will produce enriching and inspiring content they say Hollywood lacks.

Angel Studios launched in March and quickly raised $4,999,993 – the maximum – from 4,737 investors.

The studio differs dramatically from Hollywood studios in two major ways: 1) it's crowdfunded and, 2) the audience, not Hollywood, chooses what movies and television shows are produced. For example, two projects on the Angel Studios website, the animated series Tuttle Twins and the movie The Shift, are currently seeking backers to greenlight them. (Tuttle Twins has raised $1 million of a maximum of $2.7 million, while The Shift, which needs $500,000, has raised $465,000.)

Angel Studios CEO Neal Harmon says it's a way for filmmakers to "create high-quality TV and film without entry into Hollywood."

"And the way we do it is the content gets selected and funded and supported and created by the greatest film executives of all time – which is you, the audience," Harmon told Christian Headlines.

Even before the crowdfunding project launched in March, Angel Studios had an impressive track record. Its Bible-based series The Chosen raised $20 million to fund its first two seasons and has been streamed more than 100 million times. Angel Studios calls it the "largest crowdfunded media project in history." It calls the Tuttle Twins the most successful crowdfunded media project for kids ever. Angel Studios' YouTube stand-up comedy channel, Dry Bar Comedy, has 1 billion views a year.

Angel Studios' website says that by investing, viewers can "help take creative control away from Hollywood." A promotional video says too many Hollywood movies fail because they "don't have a soul" and they "leave you empty."

Harmon said Angel Studios' content will be the opposite of what Hollywood so often produces.

"These [Angel Studios] creators are working harder and more passionately than they ever have because they're answering to the audience and not to Hollywood," he said. "And they care. So there's going to be this raising of the bar in the quality of content that's going to happen at Angel Studios."

Angel Studios' projects, he said, will produce enriching, inspiring content.

"Whether it's teaching the principles of freedom with the Tuttle Twins, or the Golden Rule with The Chosen, Angel Studios' mission is to help creators and their communities to amplify stories of light," Harmon told Christian Headlines. "That's our North Star."

The success of The Chosen, he said, demonstrated that families are hungry for an alternative to Hollywood, as did the raising of $10 million to fund VidAngel's defense of a lawsuit by Hollywood studios.

"The Chosen has certainly accelerated what we always have wanted to do," he said. "We wanted to build an alternative studio to Hollywood before we even started VidAngel back in 2013. We wanted to attract a like-minded group of people and then eventually help them produce and distribute content that was better than Hollywood could do it. And we went through the last eight years learning what the best way to do that model is. … We put everything we had into it. We bet the farm on it, so to speak. We had to make it succeed. It just so happened that The Chosen was a smash success and beyond what we expected. And it funded Season 2 from the sales of Season 1. … It's been a huge accelerator for us. And we're just grateful."


The Chosen Passes 100 Million Views: It 'Can Stand' Up to Any 'Major Hollywood TV Series'

Photo courtesy: ©The Chosen/Angel Studios

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum vetoed a bill this week that would have banned transgender girls from participating in girls' sports.

According to Fox News, the bill initially passed in the North Dakota House and the Senate. Both the House and Senate would have to vote to override the veto for the bill to pass.

Burgum said that he vetoed the bill because "the bill would unnecessarily inject the state into a local issue by creating a ban with [a] myriad [of] unforeseen consequences."

"To date, there has not been a single recorded incident of a transgender girl attempting to play on a North Dakota girls team," Burgum said in the veto message, a local news station reported. "Further, NDHSAA already has regulations in place for participation in sex-separated interscholastic contests by transgender students. These regulations require transgender girls to undergo testosterone suppression treatment ... for a full calendar year before they are eligible to compete."

Republicans in North Dakota argued that there needs to be a level playing field for girls in sports.

"We need to keep women on an even playing field," Rep. Kathy Skroch, a Republican, said during House debate on the bill. "There is a reason why there is separation of boys and girls sports."

Opponents of the bill, however, called the bill "discriminatory."

"It was obvious from the beginning that this discriminatory legislation was about creating solutions to problems that don't exist and, in the process, harming some of the most vulnerable people in our state," ACLU of North Dakota Campaigns Director Libby Skarin said Wednesday night.

Skarin also tweeted her praise of the governor's decision to veto the bill.

"This is such beautiful news for trans kids across the state," she said.

This is not the first proposal on transgender students in sports that has come across a state governor's desk. In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson also vetoed a transgender bill in his state. The bill would have banned hormone treatments and other medical interventions for transgender youth.

Hutchinson called the bill "overboard" and "extreme."


'Victory for Children': Arkansas Becomes 1st State to Ban Transgender Surgery, Hormones on Kids

Arkansas House Passes Bill to Protect Teachers Who Refuse to Use Transgender Students' Preferred Names, Pronouns

Alabama Legislature Passes Bill Banning Transgender Athletes from Female Sports

Florida Senate Considers Abandoning Bill Banning Biological Males from Female Sports

Gov. Kristi Noem Signs Two Executive Orders Banning Trans Athletes from Female Sports

Photo courtesy: Jonathan Chng/Unsplash

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

(RNS) — When the unfamiliar pop-up touting a new feature appeared on Robert P. Jones’ Facebook, the CEO and founder the CEO and founder of PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) posted a screengrab to Twitter.

“Wondering what fb algorithm thinks it knows about me?” Jones mused.

The new Facebook feature? Prayer posts. The function will allow members of Facebook groups to ask for and respond to prayer requests.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to Religion News Service that the social media platform is currently testing the prayer post feature.

The idea for prayer posts grew out of the myriad of ways users have connected over Facebook while distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the spokesperson.

“Our mission to give people the power to build community extends to the world’s largest community; the faith community,” Nona Jones, head of Global Faith Partnerships at Facebook, said in a written statement to RNS.

“As a local church pastor with my husband, I know very well how disruptive the last year has been for people of faith and the houses of worship that serve them,” Jones said. “This is why we are committed to finding ways to build the tools that help people connect to hope on Facebook.”

In its Year in Review, Facebook noted that the week of Easter and Passover 2020 — which fell in early April, about a month into lockdowns across the country — saw the most group video calls ever on Messenger, Facebook’s private messaging app. It also saw the most Facebook Live broadcasts from “spiritual” Facebook pages.

Prayer posts are being tested within a subset of groups in the United States, according to Facebook. The spokesperson did not elaborate on what criteria make up that subset.

Group administrators must opt-in to allow members to use the feature, which gives members the option to post prayer requests in the group.

Other members can then click a “pray” button to let the original poster know they have prayed for their request. They also can choose a reaction, leave a comment or send a private message to the poster.

Facebook is also exploring additional tools to support faith and spirituality communities, including its #MonthForGood campaign during the Muslim observance of Ramadan, according to the spokesperson.


Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: ©RNS/Kit Doyle