Fancy a couple more seasons of The Queen’s Gambit or Black Mirror? Well, would you be willing to buy “stock” in those shows as a way of crowdfunding them? It’s an unlikely proposition for most viewers – and most producers as well. After all, the goal of making TV content is ultimately to milk as much money out of it as possible, and if that can’t be done; well, the show goes on hiatus – sometimes indefinitely.

The Chosen

The Chosen

This is, however, not the case with the latest hit show from America. It’s the largest crowdfunded film or TV series project in history and is not close to finished growing. What’s more, The Chosen is a Bible TV show; a re-telling of the story of Christ’s time on earth. The people behind this project took some early footage and showed it to supporters, asked them to crowdfund the series by buying “stock” that cannot be sold but remains theirs in perpetuity. Eventually, tens of thousands were moved to support the show and season two has just begun streaming on the app. Yes, The Chosen is viewed by installing an app. An inspired idea as it allows for loads of extras, roundtable talks, “how it was filmed” bits, a link to an online store with merchandise, and buttons you can push should you feel inspired to “pay it forward” or become a part of financing future seasons.

The director and producers also promised investors that they would not take a slice of the profits until supporters had made 120 percent in profits on their investment, and some of that money is already coming in via DVD, VOD, or licensing rights sales. The Chosen is an app and concept like nothing we can remember, and again, let’s not forget: this is a re-telling of the life of Jesus. Haven’t there been enough such shows? Well, apparently not – if done in the manner of The Chosen, which is more of a historical drama than a faithful recreation of the New Testament on film.

The Chosen has a near-perfect score from most web critics and rating sites, and the actors, direction, and script are all being roundly praised. The Chosen gives women a much greater role than seen in other Biblical dramas. The actors and actresses look like they belong in the Israel of Jesus’ time: this isn’t a “White Jesus” story. The actor portraying Christ has the skin tone and dark hair and scruffy beard that would have been the reality of the time. His disciples look likewise. What’s more, the show features black people… and not only as servants! (Considering Africa is “just around the corner” having Africans or people with African heritage in Israel of Christ’s time is extremely likely, yet when was the last time you saw black people in a Jesus-themed show… other than perhaps a token slave?)

The humanizing of Jesus and his crew of ex-fishermen, a tax collector, and other memorable characters is well-done. In the episode where Jesus turns water into wine (a favorite miracle story for many) Jesus is seen “hanging out,” talking to people – not preaching to them. The son of God – who is a guest at a wedding – plays a cup-stacking game with the local kids, and has fun doing so. This goes against the idea some have of Jesus being a distant observer and makes Christ one of us; a person who dances at the wedding and after performing the “water into wine” miracle, demands no thanks or acknowledgment of his greatness. In The Chosen, Jesus seems like someone you’d invite to the pub or – in the US – to a barbeque. He’s not going to lecture you on your sins, but he just might make a tiny comment that makes you think.   

The stereotype some Europeans have of Americans is that they are just shy of religious fanatics – practitioners of faith-healing, snake handling, speaking-in-tongues, and the belief that the Bible is the literal word of God. These stereotypes are of course based on some facts. There are indeed churches in America where preachers hold poisonous snakes, there are also millions of evangelical Christians who do speak in tongue (the technical term is Glossolalia) and millions more who accept the Bible as God’s plain truth, going so far as to reject the “theory” of evolution in favor of a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. But while well over 80 percent of Americans self-identify as Christians, a 2020 poll found the number of Americans who attend church has fallen to the lowest number in American history: roughly 46 percent. The fact that Americans are as a whole, more “religious” and Christian than many Europeans is true, it is also true that the way Americans are approaching religion – Christianity in particular – is changing, and fast. Some point to the far-right Church essentially “turning off” a huge segment of a younger, more ethnically diverse demographic. Some point to the mixing of politics with faith in Jesus Christ as another reason Americans are giving up Sundays in the pew.

These explanations likely all hold elements of truth, but the numbers in 2020 aren’t far from the figures of a 2017 Gallup poll which reported 87 percent of Americans see themselves as Christians. So, what’s changing? Americans are finding their own ways of being “Christian,” and for a slim majority, that doesn’t include sitting through long-winded sermons or singing ancient hymns. The reason The Chosen has been such a phenomenal hit in the US is due in great part to these kinds of Christians, people who still believe, but want a more modern faith, a Jesus who isn’t distant and who doesn’t require intermediaries to communicate with. The Chosen brings to the screen such a Jesus, and for fans, it’s spellbinding.