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COMMENTARY: Boycotting films tends to backfire Kenny Dickson, Apr 18, 2006
In response to the recent article (United Methodist Reporter, March 31) about whether people of faith should boycott the upcoming film The Da Vinci Code, I agree with several of the persons referenced in the article.
Boycotting The Da Vinci Code would be a mistake for two reasons.
First, organized efforts to boycott films rarely work; in fact they are usually counterproductive in that they are likely to invite even more attention and controversy, and consequently, more ticket sales.
Secondly, this film offers a rare opportunity to engage persons who ordinarily have little or no interest in theology, the Bible or Jesus.
Recent large-scale attempts at boycotting films indicate the drawbacks of such efforts.
Conservative religious organizations tried to ban and boycott Martin Scorsese's 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ, but succeeded only in diverting attention from the movie's marginal acting and at times laughable script.
Propelled by the news generated by the boycott, the film was profitable. Had the film opened without all the controversy, it would have in all likelihood received poorer reviews and less word-of-mouth publicity, and perhaps even lost money.
Similarly, Mel Gibson's 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ, received unprecedented pre-release coverage, primarily due to criticism and boycott threats from groups opposed to the film's extreme violence and portrayal of Jewish leaders.
The result? The film received huge support from Christian groups and individuals who saw the criticism as questioning the accuracy of the Gospels' accounts -- and thereby truth -- of the events surrounding the Crucifixion.
The Passion of the Christ ended up being one of the highest-grossing films of all time, due mostly to the backlash against attempts to force Mr. Gibson to make production changes or to block its release entirely.
The Passion was much more successful than the equally good, if not superior, 2003 film, The Gospel of John, which was released just six months earlier. Lacking the controversy that propelled The Passion, The Gospel of John had limited success and virtually no overt support from churches, clergy or denominations.
Organized boycotts, especially those initiated by churches and religious groups based on ideology, simply are not effective in deterring audiences and only serve to increase pre-publicity buzz and ticket sales.
We need to remember that the release of The Da Vinci Code actually opens a window of opportunity to share Christian beliefs with those who question the reality and truth of the Gospel. The film, like the publication of the novel, represents a golden opportunity in which persons who ordinarily would not entertain discussions of Christ will instead seek out occasions to discuss the film, and in so doing, will talk about the ministry, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
When people who see the film ask those of us who are people of faith, "What did you think of The Da Vinci Code?" what they are really saying is, "Tell me more about who Jesus was and what his ministry was about."
As Da Vinci mania builds in anticipation of the film's release, Christians should resist the temptation to become defensive about film's plotlines and false claims. Instead, we should brush up on studying the scriptural accounts of Christ and the history of the early church, and reflect on the theological basis of our beliefs, so we can effectively respond to the strong interest generated by the film's publicity and excitement.
As for the dilemma over seeing the film, Christians should use the same criteria they would for any movie, including whether it gets favorable critical reviews, whether they have an interest in the mystery/thriller genre and whether they enjoy the work of actor Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard.
The Rev. Kenny Dickson, an associate pastor at Custer Road United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas, holds an undergraduate degree in film history and theory from Southern Methodist University. His e-mail email@example.com.