Apples, oranges and Facing the Giants

ftgmovieposterfinaltweak 01I think a key question here is still left unanswered: [Kris] Fuhr of Provident Films told you "she was told" that proselytizing was quite specifically the reason for the PG rating. [Joan] Graves of MPAA tells the LAT that religion and evangelizing had exactly NOTHING to do with it. So let's close the loop here. Get Fuhr to elaborate or respond. I'm still left wondering what MPAA's reason really was -- and whom to believe . . .

Posted by paddyo' at 8:43 pm on June 21, 2006

It's been several weeks since my original Scripps Howard News Service column about the controversial little Christian flick called Facing the Giants. You can click here if you want to see the follow-up post here at GetReligion.

There are still plenty of people out there who believe I got spun by a saavy public-relations professional, who landed a boatload of free publicity via talk radio, Christian bloggers and the mainstream press. There are also people who think the movie didn't deserve a PG rating and that the whole affair is evidence that the Motion Picture Association of America hates religion in general and Christians in particular.

I continue to think the evidence is more complex than that. I also think the PG rating was appropriate, no matter how one settles the public disputes about the MPAA's ruling.

To make a long story short, the studio and the producers behind Facing the Giants stand by their story that their original communications with the the MPAA -- email and telephone talks -- said the PG rating was based on content that could be interpreted as characters proselytizing on behalf of Christianity. There were multiple people involved in these talks and emails, but only one is speaking on the record: Kris Fuhr of Provident Films (which is linked to Sony).

Meanwhile, MPAA leaders have done a rare thing -- discuss one of the board's secret decisions. Some of these public statements have been interesting, to say the least. The board is saying the PG was not based on faith issues or on religion, in and of itself. But the board has not said that about the proselytizing issue.

What we have here is one voice saying, "This decision was based on A." Then the other voice says, "That is totally wrong. This decision was not based on B!" One group says "apples" and the other replies by talking about "oranges."

After reading lots of news coverage about the situation, and fielding lots of telephone calls asking me questions about my original column, I would like to share a key section of the Scripps Howard column that I shipped today. We begin right after a reference to a blunt public statement by Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri in which he attacked the MPAA ruling and suggested that Congress might want to discuss the matter.

This drew a quick letter from MPAA chairman [Dan] Glickman, a veteran Democrat who served in Congress and on President Bill Clinton's cabinet.

"Any strong or mature discussion of any subject material results in at least a PG rating," he said. "This movie had a mature discussion about pregnancy, for example. It also had other mature discussions that some parents might want to be aware of before taking their kids to this movie.

"Roy, I assure you that religion was not the reason this movie got a PG rating."

This raised another question: What about those "other mature discussions" in the movie? What were they about?

The MPAA board works in secrecy and, other than its leader, members are anonymous. However, chairwoman Joan Graves granted a rare interview to discuss the "Facing the Giants" case -- after receiving thousands of calls and e-mails.

"It we see someone on the screen practicing their faith and indicating that they have a faith, that's not something we 'PG,'" she told the Los Angeles Times.

This was an interesting choice of words, since hardly anyone had claimed that the movie was rated PG simply because it contained religious characters and expressions of faith. The key issue was whether its evangelistic content was offensive. Instead of merely showing faith, "Facing the Giants" included scenes that made a case for conversion to the Christian faith.

Thus, another MPAA official noted that -- in addition to discussions of pregnancy and infertility -- the movie included some proselytizing. "Parents might want to know" when a movie openly advocates one religion over other religions, John Feehery, the board's executive vice president of external affairs, told The Hill newspaper.

ratings poster1The key language there, the part about "openly advocates one religion over another," is a paraphrased quote and I tried to stay as close as I could to the wording in The Hill (with attribution, of course). It sure seems to me that Feehery is saying that parents need some kind of warning about a movie that may or may not include some proselytizing.

This is the issue that is so frustrating to me as a reporter.

I agree that there are many parents and other people who would be offended if they found themselves, without some kind of warning, sitting in a theater watching a movie that contained proselytizing or material that suggested that they were practicing the wrong faith. If the MPAA wants to say that proselytizing is valid reason for a PG rating, I think that makes sense. You could sure make a case for that.

So why won't MPAA leaders talk openly about that?

It is possible, of course, that they reacted to this blast of Christian evangelism and, without really thinking about it, created this new standard about "mature discussions" of salvation and other matters of eternal bliss or damnation. The problem, of course, is that the MPAA board -- if it openly discusses this ratings standard -- would then have to apply it to other religions and to other ideas and beliefs that will offend many moviegoers. In this day and age, it's hard to talk about heaven and hell without offending someone.

In fact, there are a whole lot of ideas and beliefs that, if movies start preaching about them, are going to upset lots of people. There are red beliefs that will offend blue people and there are blue beliefs that will offend red people. Is all of that going to start showing up in the movie ratings now?

Stay tuned. I expect sequels.

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