SBC Life Articles

Glamorizing Teen Violence: Disney Does It Again

Just days after the school year began at Columbine High School, a subsidiary of The Disney Company was premiering a film portraying the kidnapping of a teacher by three students.

After last April's mass murder at the suburban Denver school, Miramax Films postponed the May release of Killing Mrs. Tingle. The Disney subsidiary then changed the film's title to Teaching Mrs. Tingle and slated its premiere for Aug. 20.

The plot, described by one reviewer as a "black comedy," involves a would-be valedictorian whose chance for a college scholarship may be ruined by her history teacher's accusation of cheating. Miramax's Internet site calls the film "wicked," while an advertisement in the Aug. 15 Los Angeles Times promises, "This Friday, three students are about to get even with the teacher from hell."

"Just about the time we think we've pushed the envelope we push it a little further," said Darrell Scott, father of Rachel Joy Scott, one of the twelve students killed at Columbine. "I'm just amazed at how we've taken God away from our kids in school and filled it with violence at school and in movies and with video games."

Miramax denies the Columbine violence had anything to do with the new title. Co-chairman Bob Weinstein told Entertainment Weekly it was changed to emphasize the film is a comedy, not a teen horror flick.

Tensions already were brewing at Columbine when school opened during the week of Aug. 16, according to a report in the Denver Post. A Nazi swastika was discovered etched in a brick retaining wall outside the high school and two more in a girls' restroom.

E. Michael Caner, a Southern Baptist pastor who spent three consecutive days in Littleton counseling grief-stricken people last April, voiced outrage over the new Miramax/Disney film.

While movies like Saving Private Ryan can be a stirring and truthful reminder of the effects of violence, Caner said, Teaching Mrs. Tingle romanticizes violence and places it in the arena of "hijinks."

"Such a movie not only communicates that violence is necessary, it is 'cool.' This is terrifying in a community where violence has so decimated our families."

Caner, senior pastor of Central Baptist Church in Aurora, Colo., wrote Miramax a letter and encouraged church members to do the same.

Billy Epperhart, pastor of Trinity Christian Center in Littleton, also raised his voice against the film. While he was traveling and not available for comment during the week of Aug. 16, he told The Washington Post last spring Mrs. Tingle would face opposition in Littleton.

"I can tell you it's going to be protested [here] and it'll be protested by every group, religious and otherwise," Epperhart said. "There is an absolute community agreement here regarding anything that has to do with violence and kids in school."

In addition to the Christian community, the movie was condemned by the nation's largest teacher organization. National Education Association President Bob Chase wrote to Miramax in June to register a strong objection on behalf of NEA's 2.4 million members.

Chase also attacked the Disney company during his annual convention speech in early July. Noting that slain Columbine teacher Dave Saunders was to be honored by the NEA that afternoon, the teachers' union leader said, "It defies belief, but Miramax studio is set to release a movie about students who plan and carry out an attack on a public school teacher."

Recounting that the film's original title was Killing Mrs. Tingle, Chase said, "After Columbine, they changed the name to Teaching Mrs. Tingle. What in the world do they mean? The attackers are going to teach Mrs. Tingle a lesson? It takes your breath away, doesn't it? Does the market god have no sense of responsibility? No decency? No shame?"



Taking Action

Susan Clarius had never before played the role of an activist. But the mother of two in Grant Parish, La., decided to take a stand when she saw a TV advertisement for Teaching Mrs. Tingle.

"The movie trailer seemed to imply that a bunch of students kidnap and kill a teacher they don't like," she said. "I thought to myself, it's time for school to open and Hollywood releases a movie in which students kidnap and torture a teacher," Clarius said.

A substitute schoolteacher, Clarius said she already has to deal with often-unruly students who don't need any further suggestions as to how they might disrupt classes or make a name for themselves.

Clarius got on the phone and called both movie theaters in nearby Alexandria, La. Both managers said if they got the movie, they would play it without compunction.

So she began calling city council members, school board members, mayors of neighboring towns, state representatives and state senators, and candidates for local offices. Each told her they would also call the movie theaters' district managers and register their complaints.

A few days later, Clarius said she opened the section of her local paper that carries movie ads and saw a display ad for Teaching Mrs. Tingle. Stamped across it was the word "canceled."

The two district managers for the local theaters told area reporters they had each received dozens of phone calls asking the movie not be shown in Alexandria.

"We live way out here in the middle of Louisiana. We have what I feel is a very safe community. I don't want or need people giving our kids ideas about how to terrorize people they don't like," Clarius said. "We have enough of that going around in real life to go see Hollywood glorify it on the silver screen."

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker