I heard about a free movie being shown at the independent movie theater three blocks from my apartment, so I decided to check it out. Its called The Stoning of Soraya M. and its a true story adapted from a book of the same name. In order to be able to attend the free screening I had to click here to RSVP to be allowed in.
Being that the movie was free I didn't mind jumping through a few hoops for a minute or two. But I was surprised to see its overt Christian overtone because the movie is about egregious human rights violations directed at Iranian women (Soraya in particular, as you can guess). I would have thought that if this movie had any religious or political backing it would be from a muslim council or some kind of global humanitarian awareness something or other. So I was filling out the survey at the bottom of the link and got to where it asks me to list my "Title" I was epecting the usual choices of Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., etc. The options I got were, "Head Pastor, Pastor, Priest, Rabbi, Small Group Leader, Youth Ministry, Adult Ministry, Teacher, other."
That was surpring, and not just grammatically. Is Adult Ministry really a "title", as in, "Hello, I'm Adult Ministry Slyder"? I also noted how the "o" of "other" was lowercase, unlike all the other options. Anyway, I clicked other. The next question calls for the name of my Congregation, and the following question asks for the size of my congregation. I'm not affiliated with any religious organization, so I wrote in "none" for my name. When I got to the size of my congregation, I recalled that the survey says at the top "All Fields Required", so I was looking for the option of "0-100" or, "I don't belong to an organization" Nothing of the sort was an option. The choice with the smallest following was "1-10", so I had to lie since all fields were required.
Make no mistake about my skepticism- the movie was very good. It was good in a Schindler's List kind of way- well done, gets its point across, appears accurate and without an ax to grind, but at the same time isn't a date movie and provides zero comic relief. It's just designed to provoke thought, feel sympathy and nothing else. So a friend and I sat through the movie and found that it achieved its goal. It is entertaining, just not escapist.
When the movie finished a guy who is affiliated with the movie, more specifically Grace Hill Media, the movie's Christian PR team, grabs a microphone in the theater to ask us what we thought. He then was telling us what an outrageous crime against humanity, blah blah blah. He proceeded to tell us that the best way to end such suffering is to talk about it at our church, at youth groups and for church's to rent out entire movie theaters for its parishioners to come watch his movie. He then asked for a show of hands from the audience for people who were leaders in their churches. What I heard was "Jesus wants you to give us your money." That's when I left.
It seemed to me that this entire event was little else but a focus group for a possible new conservative agenda. Maybe the conservatives feel like the dropped the ball on certain humanitarian topics like Darfur, Global Warming, or maybe even gay marriage to some small extent (since it now seems like its legalization is a foregone conclusion, even if its a ways off), and scrambled to find a new stage in which to display their humanitarianism. So with the free screening and feedback, and subsequent email surveys, they were seeing if this was a topic that resonated with a conservative audience, and we were their focus group.
What I found most unfortunate was the veiled correlation between this conservative burgeoning concern with Iranian well-being, and the conservative support of war in that region. While this movie successfully makes us sympathize with the plight of females in Iran, it also demonizes the men (rightfully so, in the case of this movie). I couldn't shake the feeling that this movie then advances anti-muslim sentiment (since Allah apparently condones violence if the recipient had it coming to them, as we learn in the movie), by effectively stating- "Sure their thinking is screwed up, but it's nothing a little Jesus can't fix". Phrased differently, it seems to drive an ideological wedge between us and them.
Maybe all of the wedge-driving is warranted. If all the men in that village really were that incorrigble, then this movie has portrayed that accurately and no one is at fault. But such direct marketing toward Christians, and ostensibly, toward ONLY Christians reduces the credibility of the cinematic achievement. It made me ask- why does the marketing of this movie make it sound as if an atheist or muslim couldn't sympathize with Soraya's strife? Why was religion a part of the marketing of this movie? Since its a global issue, why not appeal toward more liberal groups like colleges or global humanitarian causes? Christianity playing such a heavy-handed role in the movie's marketing, I kept thinking that some conservative consortium must have planned this PR movie months ago, thinking, "Ok liberals, you won with Darfur, water-boarding, health care reform and Global Warming, but we're gonna get even when we make muslim women our new pet cause. Just you wait! Back off, non-Christians, this is our battle to fight and win, we found it first."
Then I got this email from Grace Hill today.
Now that you've had a chance to see THE STONING OF SORAYA M. and had time to collect your thoughts about this powerful film, I hope you've come to the same conclusion I have – although difficult to watch, it is a story that must be told! If you were as moved as I was, it is time to stand up and make a difference.The momentum for the STONING OF SORAYA M. is building – people as diverse as Dr. Frank Wright (President, NRB), Tony Campolo (Lecturer and Professor at Eastern University) and radio personality Rush Limbaugh have all been moved to offer action:
“Out of darkness – light. That is the story of creation, the story of human redemption, and the hope of The Stoning of Soraya M. In this true story, a wrongly accused woman pays the price for the sins of her town. With the darkness of the human condition laid bare, this riveting account inevitably points us to our only real hope: the One Atonement that dispels darkness and manifests the One Light that will never fail.”
-Frank Wright, Ph.D., President & CEO, National Religious Broadcasters
"The Stoning of Soraya M. is mesmerizing from beginning to end. It stirs the emotions that lead to commitments for justice on behalf of oppressed women everywhere. This has to be one of the best and most important films of the year."
-Tony Campolo, PhD, Eastern University
And now it's your turn.
As you probably sensed intuitively, the filmmakers responsible for THE STONING OF SORAYA M. are unique in Hollywood. Having made other life-altering films like THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST and BELLA, it's clear that their personal faith informs their professional vision. But films like these don't continue to get made without box office success, and that requires men and women who make a personal commitment to support films like these as a ministry opportunity.
We need your help. We need YOU to commit to buying out an entire screening on opening weekend. That's a big commitment, I know - but I would not ask you to do anything I wouldn't do myself. That's why I'll be buying out a screening on opening weekend. Join me, and help make THE STONING OF SORAYA M. a movie that changes hearts and frees oppressed people all over the globe. Together we can make a difference.
As an added incentive, if you buy out an entire theatre, Jim Caviezel will tape a personal greeting for you and your congregation! Just go to www.stoningparable.com/commit to register, or contact me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help support THE STONING OF SORAYA M. - so that the world will know.
Thank you again and God bless,
Jonathan BockPresidentGrace Hill Media
Wait, so you're telling me that this movie has been lauded from such a diverse array of thinkers that it was praised by Rush Limbaugh AND the Pres. and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters?? That movie somehow reached out to BOTH of them?? Daayyyyum. That just about spans the whole spectrum of American political thought.
So if you feel sympathy for Soraya, and you should, you're obligated as Christians to feel guilty for your inaction regarding her people. How can you get involved? By watching my movie and telling a friend! Silence is consent- speak loudly! Unfortunately, this concept is very reminiscent of the pre-Lutheran Revolution Christian Church's selling of indulgences. The tag-team alliance of this powerful movie with this Christian group is an unsound idea as it dillutes the powerful message of the movie by secularizing it.
All that letter was missing was what they really wanted to say: Jesus told us that he wants you to give us your money.