“The Nativity Story,” director Catherine Hardwicke’s film version of the Gospel stories of Jesus’ birth, had its world premiere on Sunday at the Vatican. (It opens in the U.S. this week.) Some 7,000 people, including Hardwicke and several high-ranking cardinals, attended the showing–but not Pope Benedict XVI or Keisha Castle-Hughes, the 16-year-old Australian actress who plays Jesus’ mother, Mary.
As it turns out, Keisha, like Mary in the Gospels, is pregnant out of wedlock. But unlike Jesus, who was conceived by divine power while Mary remained a virgin, Keisha’s unborn baby has an all-too-human father, her 19-year-old boyfriend, Bradley Hull. So the reports started flying that the spectacle of a high-school-age, obviously non-virgin Mary had proved too much for the pope.
The U.K. Guardian reported that a disapproving Benedict had boycotted the Vatican premiere. The Detroit Free Press reported rumors that Keisha had been dropped from the invitation list by offended Vatican officials. There were even suggestions that scandalized Catholics and evangelical Christians planned to stay home from the movie after the news of Keisha’s pregnancy broke in October.
At this point, Bill Donohue, the never-word-mincing president of the Catholic League for Religious, jumped into the fray, accusing the media of cooking up the stories that Benedict had refused to see the movie and Keisha had been shunned. “Despite what some think, Christians do not turn their backs on unwed mothers: They provide services for them,” an inflamed Donohue wrote in a press release.
Donohue was undoubtedly right about the pope’s reasons for his no-show. The Nov. 26 premier of “The Nativity Story” took place less than 48 hours before Benedict’s highly publicized trip to Turkey, which was fraught with uncertainty until the last minute because of security concerns. As for whether Keisha Castle-Hughes was dropped from the Vatican’s invitation list on account of her pregnancy (or told it would be a good idea not to appear), we’ll probably never know what really happened.
The New York Times, however, reported a statement by Keisha’s publicist that she was busy working on another movie–and who doesn’t trust the New York Times? Furthermore, both the Catholic and the evangelical media remain positive about the movie, as does the secular press. Consider this Nov. 29 headline in Australia’s Herald Sun: “Pregnant Actor ‘Great Virgin.”
— Charlotte Allen