—Originally published 3.5.04
My father's been telling me about this for years, but over the last week, just a month shy of my 25th birthday, I finally experienced the rampant anti-Christian bias in Hollywood and much of the mainstream media.
For its opening-day coverage of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," The Associated Press used this quotation from some genius in Charlotte: "It sort of felt like you were coming to watch an execution."
The article went on to quote leaders from both the Anti-Defamation League and the Black Panthers, but included no strong comments from the Christian community, which championed the film.
Here is the story's sole "positive" statement regarding "The Passion," if you define "positive" as "not completely and utterly negative":
"It's a little bit more brutal than you would think," said a sobbing Kim Galbreath, 29, in the Dallas suburb of Plano. "I mean, there were times when you felt like it was too much. But I dare anybody not to believe after watching it."
And that was just one story. Go check out www.rottentomatoes.com, which tracks critics' reactions to films, and look up "The Passion." It received a middling 54 percent rating to qualify as "rotten;" apparently, only Roger Ebert and I gave the film its deserved four stars.
By comparison, Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill: Vol. 1," also a blood-fest, received an 83 percent "fresh" rating when it was released last year. Why the difference? Simple: Most national critics refuse to meet Gibson, a devout Catholic, at the same artistic plateau they meet Tarantino, a video store clerk-turned-auteur.
In his review of "The Passion," Ebert said he judges movies based on what he believes the filmmakers are attempting to do, and thus gave Gibson a top rating for making "graphic and inescapable the price that Jesus paid (as Christians believe) when he died for our sins." Ebert also gave Tarantino four stars for accomplishing his own goal with "Kill Bill": Elevating pulp titillation to an artistic level.
By and large, critics agreed with the latter. Go read the quotations on rottentomatoes.com -- most of the positive reviews go something like, "Yes, 'Kill Bill' is extremely violent, but it's done so well, who cares?"
Looking deeper into Tarantino's resume, I would put the basement rape in 1994's "Pulp Fiction" on the list of all-time top five disturbing scenes; that film was nevertheless nominated for an Academy Award despite a healthy dose of violence and gore. I doubt "Passion" will receive the same treatment.
And speaking of the Academy, Charlize Theron just won an Oscar for playing a serial killer in "Monster," a performance praised on high by critics across the board. You hear few complaints about her accurate portrayal of brutal violence. Again, look no further than the glowing remarks on rottentomatoes.com.
As to "The Passion's" -- and Gibson's -- supposed anti-Semitism: Jews don't come off looking bad in this movie, politicians do. The anti-Semitic "caricatures" trotted out by most pundits were members of the Sanhedrin, the high priests of the Jewish people at the time of Jesus' crucifixion.
What the critics don't mention is the one member of the council who is ousted for calling the proceedings the sham they were. Nor do they talk about Simon, a Jew, who carries Jesus' cross to Golgotha. Nor do they talk about Mary, a Jew, who stands by her son throughout, or the many other Jewish people pictured weeping at Jesus' torture and death. The criticisms were already piled high well before anyone ever saw "The Passion," and these people simply looked for instances to fill in their blanks, rather than evaluating the entire picture.
Case in point, the critics rail against the filmmaker's treatment of Pontius Pilate, claiming Gibson gave the Roman governor more depth and sympathy than the Jewish leaders.
On the contrary, Pilate comes off looking worse than the Sanhedrin.
The Jewish priests were responding to what they believed to be Jesus' blasphemy. Everything they held dear was being shaken to its foundation by this son of a carpenter claiming to be God and man at the same time.
Pilate, on the other hand, condemned a man to death purely for political reasons. When it meant standing up for what he knew to be right, he first tried appeasement (the flogging), then cowardice. As Gibson said in a recent interview, Pilate chose evil in the face of good. There is no sympathy in the filmmaker's treatment.
And in a final example of hypocrisy, "Passion" is the type of independent film celebrated in Hollywood as the end-all-be-all. Gibson had to fight, scratch and claw for its existence and his film may end up as the greatest indie hit of all time, bypassing movies like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and "The Blair Witch Project." If "The Passion" had someone other than a devout Catholic at the helm -- say, Michael Moore, for example -- the Sundance/Cannes film festival crowd would be all over this movie.
Instead, Gibson, a celebrated member of Hollywood for two decades, was turned on in a New York minute -- and all he did was finally stand up for his Christian beliefs.
But at the end of the day, Christians stuck it to Hollywood right where Tinseltown felt it the most -- at the box office, to the tune of $125.2 million in just five days.