Hollywood

'Planned Parenthood's secret weapon' profile in WPost magazine needs a counterpoint

'Planned Parenthood's secret weapon' profile in WPost magazine needs a counterpoint

I’ve written 15 stories for either the Washington Post Magazine or the newspaper’s Style section, most of which have been lengthy features highlighting an interesting individual. I know a little bit of what goes into choosing a topic for such prominent placement.

Let’s just say that a lot of thought goes into it.

So, I’m not complaining about the magazine featuring Planned Parenthood’s arts and entertainment director and her huge influence on how abortion is portrayed in Hollywood. What I gripe about is the absence of a similar several-thousand-word piece featuring an articulate woman on the opposite side of the issue.

Where’s the magazine piece on Abby Johnson, the heroine of the recent movie “Unplanned” and the Texas activist who left Planned Parenthood to now work against them? It’s not there.

Or Kristan Hawkins, an evangelical-turned-Catholic convert who turned Students for Life from a tiny group into an organization with 1,200 chapters in 50 states; who has four kids, two of whom have cystic fibrosis? She lives in DC’s Virginia suburbs, probably a mere hour’s drive from the Post’s downtown office.

So, let’s delve into this paean to Planned Parenthood’s “woman in Hollywood.”

It’s 10 a.m. on a Tuesday at Planned Parenthood’s New York headquarters, and I’m watching TV. Specifically, I’m watching a series of scenes clipped from movies and TV shows, all of which have two things in common: The woman beside me, Caren Spruch, had a hand in them, and each one features an abortion…

Spruch is the rare person in the abortion rights movement for whom the past few years represent a long-awaited breakthrough in addition to a series of terrifying setbacks. She’s Planned Parenthood’s woman in Hollywood — or, in official terms, its director of arts and entertainment engagement. She encourages screenwriters to tell stories about abortion and works as a script doctor for those who do (as well as those who write about any other area of Planned Parenthood’s expertise, such as birth control or sexually transmitted infections). It’s a role she slipped into sideways, but one that now seems to be increasingly welcome in Hollywood.

In the past year or two, word of Spruch’s services has started to filter through the film industry. “Nobody used to call me,” she says. “I would be watching TV and going to the movies and figuring out who I thought might be open to including these story lines. Now I have a couple of repeat clients. Now people call me.” She estimates that Planned Parenthood has advised on more than 150 movies and shows since that first effort with “Obvious Child.” Writers who have relied on her advice tell me they feel a secret kinship with one another. “We could see hints of her in all the TV shows coming out, from ‘Shrill’ to ‘Jane the Virgin,’ ” says Gillian Robespierre, writer-director of “Obvious Child.” “It’s really wonderful. She’s like Planned Parenthood’s secret weapon.”

In case you’re not familiar with “Obvious Child,” a trailer is included atop this post.

Spruch is a behind-the-scenes kind of person, so much so that I couldn’t find her listed on Planned Parenthood’s main site. Her LInkedIn profile tells nothing of her past. I’m curious what Spruch gets paid for all this work, but the article doesn’t say. There’s very little bio about the woman herself.

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What about #MeToo 3,000 years ago: Should King David or Bathsheba get the blame?

What about #MeToo 3,000 years ago: Should King David or Bathsheba get the blame?

It’s the most notorious sexual encounter of ancient times.

In a remarkably candid account in the Bible (2d Samuel chapters 11 and 12), the great King David impregnates Bathsheba when both were married to others.

In the 21st Century, and especially with the recent rise of the #ChurchToo wing of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, there’s vigorous debate in print and online about whether Bathsheba intended to lure the king’s attentions, or the two shared equal blame for adultery, or David alone was responsible.

Last week on Patheos.com, Jonathan Aigner satirized an old-fashioned attitude (often the work of male writers) by listing this among mock themes for youngsters’ summertime Vacation Bible School: “It Was All Her Fault: How Bathsheba Trapped David.” Such was the tone of some classic paintings or Susan Hayward’s portrayal opposite Gregory Peck in Hollywood’s popular “David and Bathsheba” (1951).

Or consider reference works favored today among conservative Protestants. The “NIV Study Bible” says “Bathsheba appears to have been an unprotesting partner” in sexual sin, and Charles Ryrie’s study Bible agrees that she “evidently was not an unwilling participant.” The “ESV Study Bible” even brands Bathsheba someone of “questionable character.”

On similar lines, noted Jewish commentator Robert Alter of the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in 1999 that the Hebrew text may intimate “an element of active participation by Bathsheba in David’s sexual summons,” raising the possibility of “opportunism, not merely passive submission,” on her part.

But the “Women’s Study Bible” (2009) states that “adultery” signals mutual consent whereas this situation “was probably closer to rape.”

Other modern analysts insist it was “rape,” period. What’s going on here?

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Bondage, death, sex and Hollywood spirituality: Why avoid religion hook in life of Master Skip?

Bondage, death, sex and Hollywood spirituality: Why avoid religion hook in life of Master Skip?

Before I get into this strange and troubling post, let me stress what this post is NOT about.

Back in the 1980s, when I worked the Denver religion beat, I did several stories that involved a local congregation in the Metropolitan Community Church. The MCC is a denomination that is best known as a home for LGBTQ Christians and their families.

What I learned was that -- at that stage of its development -- the MCC was a complex institution, in terms of the theological orientations of its members. Yes, there were some New Age-style people, but there were way more clergy and members whose background was in liberal Protestantism (think United Methodists or old-line Presbyterians). And there were evangelicals and charismatics who remained evangelicals and charismatics, other than their views on sex.

So this post is not about a news report slamming the MCC. It is also not a post claiming that it is normal, somehow, for a MCC member/leader to have a secret life involving dangerous sex. Alas, anyone who follows the news knows that "double life" sin can be found, every now and then, in lots of conservative flocks (think Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Baptists).

Now, to the story itself, with kinky details left out. For The Hollywood Reporter, this story is a window into the life of a major "player" in the movie industry, a senior vice president at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment.

The religion angle isn't important. My question: Could journalists do justice to the religion angle, without smearing this man's church? Here's the dramatic double-decker headline. Note the word "ritual."

Death in a Hollywood Sex Dungeon:

How a Top Agency Executive's "Mummification" Ritual Ended in Tragedy

Here is the story's overture, with no religion angle in sight:

For nearly three decades, Skip Chasey, one of Hollywood's top dealmakers, led a delicate balancing act of an existence. One Sunday last November, it all came tumbling down around him.

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What's the 'A Wrinkle In Time' news story? Flashback to wisdom from Madeleine L'Engle

What's the 'A Wrinkle In Time' news story? Flashback to wisdom from Madeleine L'Engle

So what is the story with the new Disney version of the classic, Newbery Award winning novel "A Wrinkle In Time" by the late, great Madeleine L'Engle?

I'm talking about a news story here.

I'm talking about the attempt -- another one -- to make this beloved youth-fiction classic into a blockbuster movie. Why is it is causing discussion, debate and even controversy? Yes, I'm asking this because that's what we talked about this week in the GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Is it news because it appears, to one degree or another, to be a box-office flop? Is it news because, at Rotten Tomatoes, only 40 percent of critics like it? That's bad, but the score from ordinary people in theaters was even lower, to the tune of only 34 percent positive reactions.

Director Ava DuVernay was not amused and argued that race may have had something to do with it, since she -- as a star African-American director -- changed the racial mix of the cast.

It's clear that some of the movie's supporters thought race was a crucial part of the mix, as seen in this NBC commentary: " 'A Wrinkle in Time' isn't a film for critics. It's Ava DuVernay's love letter to black girls." And over at CNN there was this: "Watching 'A Wrinkle in Time' is a political act."

So one more question: Why write a religion column about this book and its author?

That's what I did this past week, for the Universal syndicate. It did that because, nearly two decades ago, I had a chance to spend two hours talking to L'Engle about the crucial themes woven into her book. In particular, I asked her if there were concepts and even quotations from her novel that needed to be in a film adaption of it. Here is a key piece of that column:

It would be hard, explained L'Engle, to grasp this book's cosmic war between life and death, good and evil, darkness and light without two crucial passages.

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Ratings were way, way down at the Church of the Oscars this year (spot the religion ghosts)

Ratings were way, way down at the Church of the Oscars this year (spot the religion ghosts)

It sounds like a simple question: Who is the AUDIENCE for the annual Academy Awards show? "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken opened this week's podcast host with that puzzler (click here to tune that in).

Ah, but are we talking about the audience for the program itself, as in the audience in the glitzy auditorium, or the audience for television broadcast that, once upon a time, was must-see TV in pretty much all American zip codes?

You see, you really have to think your way through that two-part equation in order to understand the post that I wrote the other day about the collapse in television ratings for this year's Academy Awards telecast. That post is right here: "Kudos to Washington Post for accidentally revealing diverse forms of Oscar hate/apathy?"

You see, I praised the Post -- gently -- for kind-of noticing that many Americans may have tuned out this year's Oscars show for reasons other than a desire not to see President Donald Trump bashed over and over. Late in that piece, they quoted some religious conservatives, one of whom sounded disappointed that stars hadn't dedicated more time to #MeToo issues during the Oscars.

Then there was this quip by host Jimmy "Man Show" Kimmel, which was aimed at the current administration -- but also had the beliefs of millions of traditional Christians, Jews and Muslims.

“We don’t make movies like ‘Call Me by Your Name’ for money. … We make them to upset Mike Pence,” Kimmel also said, referring to the same-sex romance film nominated for best picture.

So why did gazillions of Americans in flyover country tune out Oscars 2018, giving this cultural touchstone its lowest ratings, ever?

Obviously, it has something to do with the bitter divisions in American life that are cultural and moral, as well as political. At the same time, there is an schism between Americans who like the edgy niche-market movies that are dear to modern Hollywood's heart, and those who show up for mass-market superflicks that are not as preachy (or preach in a different style).

Do the power players in Hollywood know about this schism? Of course they do.

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John Mahoney was 'moral core' on 'Frasier;' maybe his Catholic faith was relevant in obits?

John Mahoney was 'moral core' on 'Frasier;' maybe his Catholic faith was relevant in obits?

If you ever watched the classic comedy series "Frasier," it was clear that actor John Mahoney and his Martin Crane character played a crucial role in its broad appeal.

Basically, he was a battered recliner in a world of pretentious fashion, a can of beer at a wine-and-cheese party, a lifer cop surrounded by chatty urban psychiatrists. In other words, he was the down-home voice of ordinary America. He was an every-Dad.

A tribute to Mahoney at The New York Times -- not the newspaper of record's actual obituary, following his death on Sunday -- put it this way:

As Martin Crane, the lovably grumpy, blue-collar father to the snobby Frasier and Niles, he hit many notes during the series’ run from 1993 to 2004 -- sometimes all in the same episode. He played sarcastic, cutting his sons’ pretensions down to size. He did reserved, as a counterpoint to their voluble self-analysis. He even delivered warmth, when reminding Frasier and Niles of the importance of unfussy stuff like family and beer.
As Joe Keenan, a “Frasier” executive producer and writer, put it, Mr. Mahoney’s character was the “moral center” of the show.

This moral-core theme continued in the Times obit.

While Frasier and Niles Crane, both psychiatrists, worried about wine vintages, cappuccino bars and opening nights, Marty, a retired police officer, cherished his dog, his duct-tape-accented recliner chair and the solid values of his generation. Once, when his younger son declared a certain restaurant’s cuisine “to die for,” Marty corrected him. “Niles, your country and your family are to die for,” he said. “Food is to eat.”

Now, in light of all that, does it matter that Mahoney was on the record -- in an interview with a prominent journalist, no less -- saying that his Catholic faith was at the center of his life and work?

Apparently not, at least not in The New York Times and at The Los Angeles Times.

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The theology behind Oprah's 'stirring, spiritual call to arms' at Golden Globes? Time magazine nails it

The theology behind Oprah's 'stirring, spiritual call to arms' at Golden Globes? Time magazine nails it

Unless you live in a cave with no television, social media feeds or electricity, you know about Oprah Winfrey's "stirring, spiritual call to arms" at the Golden Globes.

Winfrey's speech — tied to the #MeToo movement — "has fans dreaming" of a presidential run by the talk-show icon and Democrats from Hollywood to Iowa "captivated" by the possibility.

Here at GetReligion, editor Terry Mattingly suggested months ago: "Yes, the religious left exists: Can you think of a logical person (Oprah) to serve as its leader?"

Oh, her.

But speaking of religion, have the breathless news reports since Sunday night acknowledged — or mostly ignored — Oprah's Gospel-meets-New Age religious maven role? 

Take a wild guess.

However, a leading Godbeat pro has an extremely insightful story on the surprising theology shared by Oprah and, believe it or not, her potential 2020 adversary, President Donald Trump.

I'm talking about Time magazine religion writer Elizabeth Dias, who notes that Trump and Winfrey both "preach a gospel of American prosperity, the popular cultural movement that helped put Trump in the White House in 2016."

More insight from Dias' highly relevant piece:

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Hey, Los Angeles Times: GOP'ers aren't the only conservatives living under cover in Hollywood

Hey, Los Angeles Times: GOP'ers aren't the only conservatives living under cover in Hollywood

Conservatives in Hollywood are like male calico cats: You know they exist, but they’re tough to find.

The Los Angeles Times recently came out with a piece on what it’s like to be Republican in Hollywood and how -- even during this Era of President Donald Trump -- GOP'ers must remain undercover. You’d think things would be different in 2017. After all, liberals in cinema circles were anything but hidden during the Barack Obama administration.

But Hollywood wanted Hillary; they got The Donald and so there’s still a lot of wrath in La La Land. And so the Times set out to find the folks who are swimming upstream, as it were. Did they see any "religion ghosts"? We will come back to that question.

As an Academy Award-winning producer and a political conservative, Gerald Molen has worked in the entertainment business long enough to remember when being openly Republican in Hollywood was no big deal.
“In the ’90s, it was never really an issue that I had to hide. I was always forthright,” recalled the producer, whose credits include “Schindler’s List” and two “Jurassic Park” movies. “It used to be we could have a conversation with two opposing points of view and it would be amiable. At the end, we still walked away and had lunch together.”
Those days are largely gone, he said. “The acrimony — it’s there. It’s front and center.”
For the vast majority of conservatives who work in entertainment, going to set or the office each day has become a game of avoidance and secrecy. The political closet is now a necessity for many in an industry that is among the most liberal in the country.

The article then touched on Friends of Abe, a conservative organization whose membership of some 2,500 persons is secret because getting outed is a career killer.

Leaders of Friends of Abe said its members have sharply divergent views on the current president.
“There are very conservative people in FOA who are troubled by his rhetoric,” said executive director Jeremy Boreing, a filmmaker and self-described Trump skeptic. “There are others who are very gung-ho and supportive of him. There are people who are cautiously optimistic and others who are just cautious.”
He said it was too early to tell how Trump will affect the organization, but “if Hollywood continues to overreact to Trump and toxify people’s professional lives, FOA will grow. We got started under [George W.] Bush, not under Obama. Hollywood was a more pleasant place for conservatives during Obama’s tenure because Hollywood was in a good mood.”

The reason I’m commenting on that piece for this column is because a lot of conservatives are people of faith, yet religion isn’t mentioned at all.

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What Meryl Streep said, kind of: LA Times offers Hollywood values (minus you know what)

What Meryl Streep said, kind of: LA Times offers Hollywood values (minus you know what)

First things first: I confess that I would pay money to hear Meryl Streep read the ingredients off the side of a cereal box and she could choose the accent she used. I'm a fan. However, to continue my confessions, my reaction to the Twitter storm about her Golden Globes sermon (text here) is rather mixed.

Any reader of this blog knows that I am with her when it comes to cheering for the press to play a watchdog role with the Powers That Be. I would back that argument no matter who is in the White House, not just during GOP (or whatever Citizen Donald Trump is) administrations. As a First Amendment liberal, I would also like to see her cheer for freedom of speech, freedom of association and the free exercise of religion.

But here is my main question, after reading some of the press coverage: Is Streep actually on Trump's payroll?

She could not have given a speech that helped Trump more and, perhaps, hurt the mainstream press more than the one she gave last night. As a #NeverTrump (and #NeverHillary) voter, this has nothing to do with protecting Trump. No, Streep poured more gasoline on the old Hollywood values fires, a fact explored -- kind of -- in a massive Los Angeles Times reaction package on Hollywood, values issues and Trump (and to a lesser extent, Trump voters).

What does this have to do with religion-beat coverage?

Absolutely nothing, in this case. That's bad.

You know that whole "Does Hollywood get the religion market" thing? Don't expect to read about that in this tsunami of digital ink. Maybe there is some thoughtful material in there on entertainment colliding with faith, morality and culture issues, but I couldn't find it before the Times firewall shut me down.

The key statement can be seen in one bold headline: "The notion of a liberal agenda in Hollywood is absurd."

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