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FIRST-PERSON: PG or not PG, that is not the question

WASHINGTON (BP)–When it comes to “Facing the Giants,” the one thing the players in Hollywood and the Bible Belt agree on is that this Christian indie flick deserves a PG rating.

That PG rating isn’t what has ticked off talk radio, Christian bloggers and some Capitol Hill conservatives. They want to know if the Motion Picture Association of America thinks the “P” in PG stands for “proselytizing” and the “G” for “Gospel.”

The bottom line: Salvation can be as offensive as sex and swearing.

“We’re seeing something new with this movie,” said Kris Fuhr, vice president for marketing at Provident Films, which is owned by Sony BMG. “People who work in this business have always thought that the MPAA based its ratings on actions, on what people actually did in a movie. If you did certain things or said certain words, then you got a certain rating.

“Now it seems like the board is rating a movie on the basis of the ideas that are in it and whether it thinks those ideas are going to offend people.”

“Facing the Giants” tells the story of a depressed high-school coach named Grant Taylor whose life takes a miraculous turn for the better. It includes explicit scenes of prayer and Bible reading, along with several strategic acts of God on and off the football field. The producers have not challenged the PG rating.

The movie was created by Alex and Stephen Kendrick, two brothers who are “media pastors” at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. Working with a $100,000 budget, they used volunteers as actors, extras and technicians, assisted by a few professionals behind the cameras. Provident plans to open the film in about 400 theaters nationwide this fall, with the help of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Headlines about the PG rating for “Facing the Giants” created a buzz that quickly reached Washington, D.C.

“This incident raises the disquieting possibility that the MPAA considers exposure to Christian themes more dangerous to children than exposure to gratuitous sex and mindless violence,” said Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the third-ranking House Republican. He suggested that Congress might want to look into this issue, along with reports that “ratings creep” is increasing the amount of sex and violence in movies.

This drew a quick letter from MPAA chairman 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 total 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 emails.

“If 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” dared to include scenes that made a case for conversion to Christianity.

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.

So it is acceptable for movie characters to practice a religious
faith, as long as they don’t try to convert others.

Proselytism is a bad idea.

“I guess it’s OK,” said Fuhr, “if the MPAA warns people about some of the ideas that they will run into at the movies. … The problem is that there are all kinds of ideas in movies that tend to offend different kinds of people. Will the board be consistent?”
Terry Mattingly, at www.tmatt.net, directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities in Washington and writes a weekly religion column for the Scripps Howard News Service. Used by permission.

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  • Terry Mattingly