Priscilla Shirer (courtesy photo)

In the Bible, Ephesians 2:8-9 talks about faith. The passage says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

In the new faith-based film “Overcomer” the issues of faith take center stage. At first glance, the story appears atypical, extolling Christian values but on closer examination, the story tackles the underpinnings associated with trying to lead a Christian life.

“Overcomer” —which opens August 23—co-stars Priscilla Shirer as Olivia Brooks, a high school principal with a strong belief in the power of compassion, forgiveness, and prayer. In the film, her small town is rocked by a sudden economic downturn that affects the community. Coach John Harrison trying to discover his purpose during financial uncertainty, reluctantly agrees to coach the school’s cross-country track team with just one aspiring athlete, Hannah Scott. His wife, Amy, supports him and his new-found friend, Thomas Hill, who offers encouragement. Throughout the season, Hannah is challenged not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually on her unexpected journey toward self-discovery. Olivia sees the potential in Hannah and slowly builds a relationship with her. This was essential in Hannah recognizing the importance of God in the development of her identity. While John becomes the least likely coach, helping the least likely runner attempt the impossible in the biggest race of the school year.

There is no denying the economic power of the Christian population. In America, they are portrayed as the moral compass of an entire nation. They generate billions of dollars and step into politics with the leaders of megachurches earning millions as they turn out books, create television shows and now movies with the faith-based community supporting their efforts. To wit producer, Lemuel Plummer just created the first streaming-video-on-demand platform dedicated to faith-based African American consumers and is partnering with ICM Partners, Ebony/JET magazines, and Vimeo.

Here is an edited excerpt with actress Priscilla Shirer, star of in the faith-based film “Overcomer”

Los Angeles Sentinel: What is “Overcomer” can you describe it?

Priscilla Shirer: It’s a faith-based film, but of the highest quality. You won’t be embarrassed to take your friends to see the film. It’s a great film and a great story that you’re going to be able to see yourself in and relate to. It’s also going to give you an important message about identity, about finding your significance and value, not in your success or lack thereof. Not in how many people liked your Instagram post or didn’t but finding your success in whom God says that you are because that’s not going to change. Beauty and success are here today and gone tomorrow but whom God says you are, remains.

LAS: Thank you for being honest about the quality of past faith-based movies and television series? Why do you think there is a rise in production of faith-based films?

PS: (laughing) Exactly. I think that what [the film] ‘War Room’ did was important. It made nearly $100 million at the box-office which was unheard for a faith-based film.

LAS: Almost 100 million dollars? That’s impressive and surprising.

PS: (laughing) Yes. When ‘War Room’ did that and then ‘I Can Only Imagine’ came out and did the same [box office] thing it made people sit up and take notice and realize that these films are here to stay.

LAS: Well, Hollywood is a business. It’s a business show, not show business. How do you think that fits into the practical Christian world?

PS: Well, we [Christians] don’t have to water down the name of Jesus. We don’t have to sugar-coat the message of the Gospel to have technical excellence and to inspire and encourage our audiences so that’s what I appreciate about it because I’m a minister.

LAS: You’re a minister?

PS: That’s what I am in my heart [a minister]. That’s what the Lord allowed me the privilege of doing. I’m on platforms with a microphone in my hand. I’m sitting at my desk alone, writing books or on screen. I don’t care how [God] he does it. I want to be able to use my life in every capacity to bring honor to his name and to fulfill my purposes. So, I’m grateful just like you are that there are films that allow us as Christians to see ourselves bravely displayed and in this case, and in War Room’s case it’s important to be able to see ourselves as people of color in a way that celebrates our faith as Christians.

LAS: You are a very elegant speaker. Are you a writer? I liked what you said about not being ashamed of your faith. Can you push into that?

PS: Absolutely. Well, it’s a very unique position that I am in where I’ve been asked to be a part of projects that are Gospel films. I’m able to continue with the ministry that God has given me but in a different way of looking at it. It’s still ministry but a different platform.

LAS: That’s rare. Do you think it’s hard to be a Christian and work as an actor in the secular world?

PS: I also know people, Christians, who love the Lord and are actors [acting] in secular films. But it’s in that way that we are the salt. We are supposed to be the salt of the earth. If we’re in the [salt] shaker all the time we will never be the salt of the actual earth.

LAS: That’s a great metaphor. I’m convinced that you are a writer. Please, continue.

PS: Thank you, sister. I love it when I see people in the arts or people in any capacity for that matter representing their faith. They are not in vocation ministry but they are the salt of the actual earth and that’s possible for all of us as we do our jobs. You don’t have to be in full-time vocational ministry to let your light shine.

LAS: Your advice?

PS: Be bold and unapologetic about your faith. I mean listen, ain’t nobody else being apologetic about what they believe and we [Christians] need to be. We need to be bold.

LAS: As I was walking home today, I saw a man with a tee-shirt that said ‘I HATE GOD’ and all I can think was — what happened to him?

PS: Exactly, what happened? I wonder if there had been people in his life, who were Christians, that didn’t beat him over the head with Christianity. I wonder if he ran into any people in his life that had a relationship with Jesus and lived like it was fun to serve God.

LAS: What did you just say? Fun, to serve God? Amazing. I grew up in the Church and I can’t ever say that growing up (not once) was it presented to me that serving God was fun. You are Radical but I love your way. Please, continue.

PS: That’s a lot of people experience. We’ve got to change that narrative. In following God there are far more yeses than nos. We tend to highlight the “no’s” and the “don’ts.” The only reason in Christ that there is every a no, is that the no leads to a better yes. So when there are boundaries it’s like a fire. Fire is good when it’s got boundaries but if you let that fire out of the boundaries it’s going to cause destruction. So when there are no’s those no’s are just boundaries so that you can enjoy the life you were created for.

LAS: I’m going to step in and encourage you to write a screenplay for your faith-based movie. Is this something you’ve thought about doing?

PS: I. Am. Not. I’m busy raising my teenage sons right now. What I’m doing [right now] is finding new ways to cook chicken.

LAS: Aren’t we all. Seriously. I suggest that you read a book entitled Making A Good Script Great by Linda Seger and watch the late Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth on Netflix and then get back to me.

PS: Let me write this down. Thank you. I will. Thank you for lifting me, sister.

LAS: You’re welcome, my sister.

“Overcomer” opens August 23.

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