Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 04/02/21

The corporate establishment media reviews are in for Roe v. Wade and there as predictable as any movie has ever been. The Guardian headline reads Roe v. Wade: An anti-abortion film of staggering ineptitude. The subheadline adds Rightwing faces, including Jon Voight, Stacey Dash and Tomi Lahren, join forces for a shoddy new drama purporting to tell the truth behind a major ruling. Variety’s headline contends Dreadful Anti-Abortion Drama Has No Use for Facts or Filmmaking Basics, adding below Cathy Allyn and Nick Loeb spew lies about 1973’s landmark abortion-rights Supreme Court ruling via inept filmmaking and an amateurish cast.

In fact, the first paragraph of that Variety review pretty much says it all about how the media forces of conformity see the world.

To seriously consider “Roe v. Wade” — that is, writer-directors Cathy Allyn and Nick Loeb’s atrocious anti-abortion propaganda piece and not the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision in favor of abortion rights — it is helpful to remember a 2017 quote by journalist Chuck Todd. “Alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods,” Todd succinctly said when confronting Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway on her use of the term. While the Trump era that Conway’s expression sums up is behind us, “Roe v. Wade” has reportedly been in the works for the past three years, so it’s fair to reflect on the baffling film as a product of that period, when right-wing fabrications were routinely presented as truth.

Chuck Todd’s supposedly brilliant ode to black-and-white thinking has been repeated often by left-leaning chinstrokers who find the very concept of debate and discussion to be a waste of time, especially when you have facts to avoid. The simple principle is that “alternative facts” often aren’t falsehoods at all. They just represent truth looked at from another perspective. The idea that opposing parties can both have facts on their side, albeit different ones, seems to elude the comprehension of nascent totalitarians who can’t quite handle nuance. They must by right, you must be wrong and your movie must be the result of “staggering ineptitude” with an “amateurish cast” (even if it includes several successful actors led by multiple award winner Jon Voight). The irony is that, in the big picture, facts and science appear to mean virtually nothing to the Toddites. The only question that matters is does it serve the narrative they are presenting.

Now, I actually have a couple of problems with Roe v. Wade (which I mentioned in my review) and, certainly, everyone has a right to their opinion about a movie but I think labeling the film as “staggering ineptitude” is more like wishful thinking than actual analysis. Likewise, dissing a clearly professional, experienced and accomplished cast as “amateurish” is just schoolyard-level name calling.

That said, I did recently have the opportunity to talk with Nick Loeb who, besides starring in and directing the film, was also one of it producers. I figured, he had to see all the criticism coming.

JWK: What led you to take on such a controversial subject?

Nick Loeb: No one had made a (theatrical) movie on the most famous court case in American history and, as a filmmaker, I was surprised by that…I mean this is a court case that every single American has heard of and no one has done a real full Hollywood movie of how it came to be and how it was decided

JWK: What do you hope people take from it when they see it?

NL: The truth and an understanding of the inner-workings of the Supreme Court. I don’t think many other films have really has really gone into the Supreme Court. I think it’s sort of an interesting look inside at how they make their decisions. They talk to each other and converse. And, really, the truth of what happened and how it came to be.

JWK: I actually did find the Supreme Court scenes very interesting. I never knew or realized that the case was actually heard twice and that the first time there were only seven members on the Court.

NL: Yeah. A lot of people don’t know that.

JWK: You really did assemble an all-star cast for this movie. I mean, besides yourself, you have Jon Voight as Chief Justice Warren Burger, John Schneider as Justice Byron White, Steve Guttenberg as Justice Lewis Powell, Robert Davi as Justice William Brennan and Corbin Bernsen as Justice Harry Blackmun. Plus you’ve got established film and TV stars like Jamie Kennedy, Joey Lawrence and Tom Guiry. Did any of them express any trepidation about how doing a movie like this may affect their careers?

NL: I think a few of them, the younger (cast members) maybe. I think the older ones not so much. I think the younger ones could be potentially a little nervous about it.

JWK: I was surprised to see Mike Lindell, the My Pillow guy, with a brief cameo in the film. I missed him but I understand another controversial Trump supporter, Roger Stone, made a quick appearance as well. Are you concerned that having these guys in the movie might politicize even more than its subject matter already does?
NL: When we cast Mike a couple of years ago he wasn’t political. He’s only really become that political (recently). Same with Roger. I mean Roger hadn’t gotten arrested or anything. It’s sort of serendipitous that Roger and Mike throughout the last year have gotten rather well known. You know, listen, they’re in it for thirty seconds.

JWK: This is sort of dangerous territory but I can see a parallel between how abortion has become a sort of unquestioned dogma in establishment media. It’s not really treated as an issue anymore that is in anyway up for debate. There’s no real questioning about it allowed. I kind of see the same sort of media and political forces aligned against even the most basic questioning of last November’s election process.

NL: This is all sort of relatively new in the last couple of months where our speech has been attacked and it’s very nerve wracking.

JWK: As good as your movie is, compelling in a lot of ways, you probably aren’t expected favorable reviews.
NL: There’s been some reviews that are out there already that are phenomenal. There’s a review in The New American which is phenomenal.

JWK: My point isn’t so much about the quality of the movie but about the subject matter and its overall point of view. Personally, I wouldn’t expect good reviews.
NL: Yeah, I’m sure when the other reviewers review it we’ll get slammed.

JWK: You actually had some trouble getting this movie made. People reportedly walked off the set and that sort of thing. Can you tell me a little about that?
NL: Really the most difficult thing was raising the money. I mean we really only had one person walk off (the set)…That was really it. I don’t think we had any more struggles than most independent films do – which always have challenges. But the media like to embellish it (and) make it bigger because of the subject matter of our film. So, yeah, we had struggles with some locations. We had struggles with one crew member. One actress wanted to do the movie and then changed her mind. Some locations had us there one day then the next changed their mind.

JWK: At least on the surface, you would suspect political reasons for that.

Of course. But, with all of that, on the opposite we had a lot of support. People were coming out and offering us stuff for free. You know, people who were on the other side of the issue.

JWK: How has the publicity for this been going? I may be a little jaded but I’d imagine you might have trouble getting bookings on things like The Today Show or CBS This Morning.

Sure but most independent movies don’t go on The Today Show anyway. We’ve been getting a lot of press. Look, the average movie doesn’t go on news shows. We’ll be going on Fox and Newsmax and there are also some other shows that we are doing that are more Hollywood focused…Whether they want to support us or pan us, that’s to be determined.

JWK: I gather you are pro-life.

I am personally pro-life, yes.

JWK: What was the Catholic League’s involvement in the film?

NL: They gave us money.

JWK: There is a part of the film that I could see as being a bit problematic – where some Jewish and Protestant clerics are portrayed as sort of being part of – or being used – in the push to promote abortion. I’m thinking particularly about the part that deals with having a rabbi on the phone and hooking people up with abortions. I could see how that could be latched onto as an issue.

NL: What’s the question?

JWK: Are you concerned that critics could construe that as sort of anti-Semitic?

NL: That’s completely ridiculous. I’m Jewish.  The producing, directing and writing partners are Jewish. A lot of Jews were involved in financing the film. So, laying out the fact that rabbis were involved in helping people get abortions, I mean, I don’t know how you would see that as anti-Semitic.

JWK: What are your thoughts on Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger?

We sort of spell it out in the film. Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist. Her focus on creating Planned Parenthood was really to reduce a segment of the population – the Black population, Italians, Jews. It was all folks that she felt were sort of non-worthy of life. Her focus really was through sterilization and contraception. I find it most interesting (that) she was opposed to abortion. If you read her book, she believed also that life began at conception and she was not pro-abortion. When she was alive there was no legalization of abortion. So, you’ve got an organization that makes (millions) a year off abortion (but) their founder was anti-abortion.

JWK: Your movie covers the public conversion of Norma McCorvey from being the Roe in Roe v. Wade to being an anti-abortion activist. I had spoken to her myself when I produced a morning show for the Catholic Channel on SiriusXM and I recall finding her quite convincing. But an FX documentary, which I just recently read about and haven’t seen, apparently claims to have her “deathbed confession” in which she claims her conversion was all a financially-motivated act. I’m sure you’re aware of that. Your thoughts – and do you think that controversy should have been mentioned in your film?

NL: I’m very much aware of it. The movie’s not about Norma. The movie’s about the times Norma was lied to. It’s irrelevant, her position on abortion. And she was really an irrelevant part to Roe. She was used, manipulated and lied to and never talked to again…Who knows the real truth?…I think it’s irrelevant. It’s great fodder for the liberal media.

JWK: In my own view, I think abortion is a really tough issue. I actually believe the science is on the pro-life side yet I can’t help feel for the women in difficult situations who feel trapped and pushed into abortion or just don’t know the facts. You want to get the medical facts out there but you don’t want to attack these women or lay guilt trips on them. What are your thoughts on that?

NL: I completely agree…(We) don’t sit there and tell the audience that these people were evil or bad. We show that they really truly cared about women and that they really thought they were helping women.

JWK: You’re character of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the abortionist who had a change of heart and became a pro-life activist I think was particularly presented in a somewhat nuanced way. What are your thoughts on him?

NL: My thoughts are exactly as we portrayed him. He really in the beginning thought he was helping women and that was his goal. Just because his clinics were involved in abortions (which) is a horrible and evil thing to happen, I don’t think he was an evil man for doing them. He thought what he was doing was right.

Note: You can stream (Roe v. Wade) on iTunes, Amazon and On Demand on local cable and satellite systems. Anyone interested in doing a screening for themselves – their groups, organizations, churches or pro-life groups – can go to the website.
The Girl Who Believes in Miracles arrives in theaters today. The film stars Mira Sorvino, Burgess Jenkins, Peter Coyote, Kevin Sorbo and, in the eponymous role, Austyn Johnson.  Richard Correll directs off a script by himself and G.M. Mercer. Correll is also one of the producers of the movie, along with Terry Rindal, Nathan Gardocki, Kevin Waller and 98-year-old Laurence Jaffe, the first-time filmmaker whose story I recently shared with Beliefnet readers. My review follows the synopsis and trailer and below.
Synopsis: Young Sara Hopkins is, unlike most people, willing to take God at His word. So when she hears a preacher say faith can move mountains, she starts praying. What begins with a mysteriously healed bird leads to more apparent miracles and an overwhelming crush of notoriety and press attention.

IMHO: Despite a title that is a little too, as they say, on the nose, The Girl Who Believes in Miracles actually presents an intriguing premise which in the hands of, perhaps, a Steven Spielberg has the makings of a potentially classic movie about childlike faith. Unfortunately, Spielberg was nowhere near the set and what ends up on the screen is fairly clunky in its presentation, sometimes veering almost toward parody of the faith-based genre. The actors to their best with the script they have, and young Austyn Johnson has future star potential, but it would take a miracle for this movie to breakout of its fairly narrow niche.
All that said, the Lord does indeed move in mysterious ways. Maybe someone like a Spielberg will see this movie and decide to develop it into the meaningful and memorable film it could be. Or, maybe more likely, maybe – despite its cinematic flaws – someone (or even several people) will see this movie and it will give them just the shot of faith they need during a trying time in their life. God does use the imperfect to achieve great and wonderful things and my guess is that includes imperfect cinema.
The Bible promises “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” While it’s important to maintain balanced thinking and not to put God to the test, I actually believe that and have seen it work in my own life. There’s a lot to be said for a story that puts forth an innocent and optimistic trust in the goodness of God. I, personally, prefer even a flawed attempt at that to a slickly produced exercise in cynicism that may somehow succeed in generating Oscar buzz.
So, while the from a strictly film criticism point of view, The Girl Who Believes in Miracles has lots of room for improvement, its overall empowering message of trust in a kind God who is on our side (For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.) is Highly Recommended.
Happy Easter, everyone.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
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