MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: a box office surprise.
The Christian movie Unplanned opened last weekend in just over 1,000 theaters across the country. To put that in perspective, Hollywood blockbusters generally open in about about 4,000 theaters.
Pre-release tracking suggested Unplanned would take in $3 million. Instead, it ended the weekend with twice that in ticket sales. That gave it the second-highest opening weekend for a Christian movie, just behind 2014’s God’s Not Dead.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: That success came despite several obstacles, including an R-rating. That’s pretty unheard of for a Christian film!
Not surprisingly, given its message, several TV networks refused to run ads for Unplanned. And the country’s largest listener-supported Christian radio network also snubbed the film.
Here to explain the controversy is Lynde Langdon. She’s managing editor for WORLD Digital and writes a weekly culture news roundup called Muse.
LYNDE LANGDON, REPORTER: Hi Megan.
BASHAM: Let’s start by telling people what the movie is about.
LANGDON: Unplanned tells the real-life story of pro-life activist Abby Johnson. She used to run a Planned Parenthood center in Bryan, Texas. She quit after witnessing the abortion of a baby at 13 weeks gestation. She went on to found a nonprofit organization that has helped 375 abortion workers leave the industry. The movie is based on the book she wrote about her experience, titled Unplanned. WORLD movie reviewer Bob Brown said lead actress Ashley Bratcher, who plays Johnson in the film gave a superbly moving performance.
BASHAM: Yes, and for those of you who wrote in asking about it, you definitely want to go check out Bob Brown’s review at worldmag.com or in our print issue. Okay. So tell us why a film with such a strong pro-life message got an R rating.
LANGDON: The Motion Picture Association of America, which is the organization that assigns movie ratings, attributed the decision to some disturbing and bloody images in scenes of an abortion.
BASHAM: What’s ironic about that is that the rating means a 15-year-old girl wouldn’t be allowed to see the movie without parental permission. Yet she would be able to get an abortion without informing her parents. So, actual procedure, yes. Seeing the procedure on film, no. It’s just bizarre. Did the producers fight the rating?
LANGDON: They did. In a letter to the MPAA, two of the movie’s producers called the group’s standards “deeply flawed.” They pointed out that movies with scenes of graphic sex, violence, and moral degradation have received ratings of PG-13, but their movie, a very straightforward account of what actually happens in an abortion, was given a rating of “Restricted.”
BASHAM: Despite that R rating, though, a lot of Christians helped build buzz for the film. I understand even Vice President Mike Pence gave it a shout out on Twitter Monday. But one pretty big Christian entertainment outlet snubbed it. Tell us about that.
LANGDON: The Christian radio network K-Love has so far refused to promote the movie. It initially cited its focus on “positive and encouraging” content as one reason it wasn’t talking about the R-rated movie on air.
BASHAM: How did Abby Johnson and the film’s producers respond?
LANGDON: Well, Abby, whose life the movie is based on, called out K-Love on social media. She said K-Love told someone on the movie’s fundraising staff that Unplanned was – quote – too political. That’s been discouraging for the filmmakers, whose advertising requests were spurned by most traditional media outlets. They were counting on Christian media to help get the word out about the film.
BASHAM: Now that it’s done so well, has K-LOVE shown any sign of budging on its position?
LANGDON: Before the movie came out, Abby Johnson posted on Facebook that K-Love had changed its mind and said it would promote Unplanned. But WORLD correspondent Mary Jackson has been in touch with the movie’s producers over the past week, and they say K-LOVE hasn’t followed through. I should add that WORLD made multiple attempts to talk to the radio network’s leadership but received no response.
BASHAM: Lynde Langdon is managing editor for WORLD Digital. Thanks for joining us today, Lynde!
LANGDON: You’re welcome, Megan.