Last night I had the opportunity to attend an advance screening of the upcoming PBS series, God in America. A combination of documentary footage, dramatization, and expert interviews, God in America explores this country's religious history as it impacted public life. The screening consisted of three clips from the six-hour series, telling the stories of Anne Hutchinson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and their experiences with faith and politics.
The dramatizations were extremely well done, with several recognizable faces - Michael Emerson as Puritan leader John Winthrop and Chris Sarandon as Abraham Lincoln, to name a few. Which brings up an interesting question: are big-name actors a help or hindrance to a project such as this? On one hand, you want people with enough experience to do the heavy lifting. On the other hand, seeing someone you know as Linus from Lost might be a bit jarring. Especially with all the time travel that guy got up to...
Who's to say he didn't go back to sentence Anne Hutchinson to
But the creators of the film had a good answer to this question. As you go back in history, you're eventually going to run out of video, photographs, and paintings of historical figures. As executive producer Michael Sullivan said, "We couldn't do it all with engravings." The dramatizations were intended to allow the audience to connect with these historical figures on deeper level, both intellectually and emotionally. In order to facilitate that connection, they hired great actors to embody these stories - rather than hire good actors to merely put on a show. It's a choice, but one I find that I can definitely get behind.
Watch the preview online at the website: God in America, and catch the whole series on PBS: Oct 11-13 (check your local listings for times).