MIDLOTHIAN, Texas — This is how Katherine Warnock remembers the idea originated.
Derral Eves, executive producer for the faith-based series “The Chosen,” approached Warnock and said something like, “I’m really passionate about Gen Z. I just want to bring a bunch of them together, blind experiment, and have them binge watch ‘The Chosen’ in one day.”
“And then he walked away,” said Warnock, the show’s head of original content.
Warnock said she sought divine direction and guidance for the project, did her best to cast the right individuals and “off we went.”
What they did is gather nine young adults from various backgrounds, cultures and locations — many of whom don’t identify with any particular faith or religion — and asked them to watch a show about the life of Jesus Christ — Season 1 of “The Chosen .”
The result was a documentary, “Unfiltered: Gen Z Reacts to ‘The Chosen,’” which features the young adults reacting to the show while also telling their own raw and vulnerable life experiences. The documentary premiered in a global live stream on July 17.
Executives of “The Chosen” discussed the documentary with the Deseret News at a media event at Camp Hoblitzelle, a camp located south of Dallas where cast and crew are filming Season 3.
Response from Gen Z participants
Many of the participants appeared impressed by the show.
- They appeared to relate well to certain characters and scenes depicting situations with mental health, alienation, rejection and how Jesus in turn showed compassion, love and acceptance.
- They praised the show’s diversity.
- Several discussed their negative experiences with religion in the past and said they were drawn to the authentic, gentle, friendly, kind Jesus portrayed in the series.
“This experience was what I needed right now,” said Emma, one of the nine participants, with tears flowing.
A powerful moment in the documentary came when the nine participants sat down for a discussion with Jonathan Roumie, the actor who plays Jesus.
“God is calling you,” Roumie told one young man. “He wants to know you on a deeper level. So that tug that you’re feeling? That’s Christ trying to get to know you. That’s what that is. You’ve got nothing to lose to explore. And as you get closer and closer, you’ll know what’s true. But I think he’s calling you. And I just felt I should share that with you.”
Reaction by ‘The Chosen’
Perhaps the biggest takeaway “The Chosen” gained from the documentary is that if given a chance, the story of Jesus can appeal to a wide, diverse audience, said Brad Pelo, president and executive producer for “The Chosen.”
“What we’ve experienced and what we certainly saw when we were filming the documentary with the Gen Z kids is that this show is entertaining, insightful, impactful, you love the characters,” Pelo said. “It’s given us the confidence to boldly say to distributors and platforms … we have something that actually is of interest to the general audience.”
Actor Noah James, who plays the apostle Andrew in “The Chosen,” sat down to dinner with the Gen Z cast and watched the documentary with them. He was tired from filming all day and initially planned a polite early exit, but he was so enthralled with the documentary that he stayed until the end and even asked if he could remain in contact with the young adults.
“I was enraptured … I’m not overstating it. It really goes into some pretty amazing, moving territory. They are so gracious with themselves and so open … I literally almost could not speak to them because I was really, really moved,” James said in a video interview with show creator Dallas Jenkins. “Aside from being an actor, it was honestly one of the most proud moments I feel like I’ve had being a part of ‘The Chosen’ family.”
Warnock, who served as an executive producer on the project, used job boards to find the nine — people who were not professional actors, but who were comfortable in front of the camera. They wanted individuals who could be authentic and provide honest feedback for the show. They also made sure the subjects had never watched the “The Chosen” series. Thousands submitted applications and casting drills were used to narrow the field down to nine people, she said.
What did Warnock learn from the experience?
“How willing people are to actually have sincere conversation about Christianity, both positive and negative interpretations of their experiences with Christians and Christianity, as well as talk about and engage with Jesus,” Warnock said. “If you provide a safe, nonjudgmental environment, you will learn some profound things that surprised me. I thought we’d have to work a lot harder to create that, but it was beautiful to see. This generation, more than any I’ve ever encountered, is willing to have the hard conversations. They don’t need you to agree so long as they authentically feel that you are truly for them and want to hear what they have to say.”
Warnock added that Christians need to do more to understand the rising generation.
“The generation that is coming up is entrenched in more trauma than I think we are aware of, and Jesus is truly the only answer,” she said. “So how do we build that bridge and runway to him instead of us and our rules? That was the heartbeat of it.”
Watch the full documentary, “Unfiltered: Gen Z Reacts to ‘The Chosen’” at unfiltered.thechosen.tv. The documentary also starts at the 27:20 mark of this YouTube video. It warns that some of the topics discussed in the film may be mature for younger children and parents may consider watching first.