Charlotte-based ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ wins big at the Oscars

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This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker in a scene from “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” (Projector images via AP)

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Charlotte Oscar viewers who tuned in Sunday night may have gotten more awards than expected for watching. And no, not just witnessing the slap in the face of Will Smith heard around the world.

Jessica Chastain won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her portrayal of Tammy Faye Bakker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” It was his third Oscar nomination. The film also won the Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

The story, based on real events, has strong ties to Charlotte and its surroundings.

The film follows the rise and fall of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, the builders of the largest religious broadcasting network (The PTL Club) of the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1988, Jim Bakker was indicted on federal charges including mail fraud and attempted defrauding the public. The embezzlement of ministry funds exploded in the press and the scandal escalated when it was revealed that Bakker allegedly used ministry funds to silence a former church secretary who later accused him of the manipulated into having sex with him.

The shocking details unfolded right here in Charlotte, with the Observer playing an important role and Pulitzer-winning role in the revelation of the national scandal. So, it made perfect sense for the movie to be produced in the Carolinas, especially for director Michael Showalter.

Shooting “Tammy Faye in North Carolina”

Although the scandal’s most jaw-dropping moments took place in South Carolina as they unfolded in real time, tax incentives persuaded the filmmakers to recreate them in North Carolina instead.

When asked why he decided to film in the Charlotte area, Showalter told the Observer in September that there was a “very specific aspect” of architecture and landscape in the Carolinas that could not be replicated anywhere else in the country.

The land where the Bakkers chose to build their empire is located just across the border in Fort Mill, South Carolina. There they developed a water park, hotel, and religious-themed residential complex called Heritage USA.

Before chaos hit Jim’s “heaven on earth”, Heritage USA drew nearly 5 million visitors a year. This figure makes it the third most visited theme park in the country, after Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and Disneyland in Anaheim, California, among the top two.

Many years of neglect took their toll on the Fort Mill property when the Bakker scandal led to the derailment of the ministry, its theme park and associated operations. Eventually, in 2004, the property was purchased by Heritage International Ministries (HIM) and is now home to MorningStar Ministries.

MorningStar is embroiled in an ongoing legal battle with York County as the department continues to seek approval for the renovation and completion of a 21-story PTL-era tower located on the land.

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Evan Santiago is a reporter for the Charlotte Observer and writes for the publication’s Service Journalism Desk. He is originally from New York and is currently based in Queen City where he works to help local readers with the challenges that come with everyday life in the modern world.

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