Religion, Media, and the Marketplace

By Lynn Schofield Clark | Go to book overview

6

Cartoon Wars:
The Prince of Egypt in Retrospect

ERICA SHEEN

One of the secrets of a blockbuster film's success lies in its ability to be found
meaningful among a diverse set of potential audience members. Yet is it pos-
sible for a single film to appeal to three vastly different religious and cultural
groups? In the case of Stephen Spielberg's film The Prince of Egypt, this cross-
cultural appeal was certainly an often-stated goal. Drawing upon expertise from
leaders within Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups, the filmmakers projected
a desire to contribute to a discourse of unity and universality by ostensibly high-
lighting points of connection between how these three different traditions view
the same story of the prophet Moses. Yet as Erica Sheen argues in this chapter, it
is possible that these claims of universality had more to do with "product dif-
ferentiation" efforts on the part of the film's marketing and promotion depart-
ments than with the creation of a universally shared understanding of a common
religious story. By offering a comparison with the Cecil B. DeMille classic
The Ten Commandments and reviewing the various religiously specific tie-
ins available for Christian and Jewish filmgoers, Sheen argues that the universalist
claims of the film actually mask a nationalist agenda that coincides with U.S. for-
eign policy as well as U.S. copyright law. This chapter provides a starting point for
understanding why it is that some media products, in this case those of The Prince
of Egypt, can be celebrated as universal in certain Western cultures while banned
as exclusivist and offensive in others. Thus, this film can and no doubt has been
mobilized to do some of the work of religious lifestyle branding, yet such efforts
are seen as consequential in a sphere far beyond that of entertainment and leisure.

-154-

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