June 1999 Issue
The Disney Boycott: A Slow but Certain Influence
by Art Toalson
The Disney Company, by sidestepping a film belittling the Catholic Church,
has evidenced a glimmer of moral/religious concern for the third time in
less than five months.
Disney's Miramax subsidiary is dropping a film titled Dogma, according
to reports in Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, and numerous
other media April 8. By several assessments, the film promises to offend
Christians as deeply as the 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ.
Disney has been associated with the film's production for several years,
noted Donald Wildmon, president of the American Family Association.
The dropping of Dogma, Wildmon said, is another evidence "that
the boycott is having an impact," through the efforts of numerous evangelical
groups, including the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Catholic League
for Religious and Civil Rights.
"Disney could have done this a long time ago. They elected not to.
The only reason they're doing it now is they know it will further fuel the
boycott. And they don't want that," Wildmon said.
a Skee-ball-addicted "God" played by pop star Alanis
Morissette, who, according to the Catholic League, is "known for her
nude videos and songs about oral sex."
a Jesus who, according to the New York Post, is "an
updated Christ who no longer hangs from the cross but instead offers a thumbs-up
a foul-mouthed thirteenth apostle who, according to the Catholic
League, "resembles Howard Stern," the radio personality seeking
to make a name for himself via moral depravity.
a story line in which one of Virgin Mary and Joseph's descendants
becomes a lapsed Catholic who works in an abortion clinic.
Disney, in addition to dropping its involvement with Dogma, has
twice acknowledged problems with its fare in the past five months:
At the beginning of the year, Disney announced its first-ever
video recall - of 3.4 million copies of the animated The Rescuers
- stemming from two frames, among 110,000 in the film, which showed a photo
of an unclothed woman. The costly recall stood in contrast to previous Disney
denials of objectionable images in various films, including The Little
Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Who Framed Roger
Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, in a three-page letter to the
company's shareholders, reflected on Disney's disappointing 1998 box office:
"... in too many instances, profits did not materialize from the revenues
achieved by our films. Stated more bluntly, either the films and marketing
cost too much, or the audience rejected our ideas. Whatever the reason,
we're glad fiscal '98 is over in this area." Additionally, Eisner was
quoted in media reports as saying Disney plans to release more family oriented
films in 1999.
Economically during fiscal 1998, Disney's net income rose only 4 percent
and its stock fell 5.6 percent, according to Bloomberg Business News,
and Eisner's bonus for 1998 of $5 million was pared from 1997's $9.9 million,
a subject Eisner did not address in his letter to shareholders.
Dogma, which includes a cast of such prominent stars as young
actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and comedians Chris Rock and George Carlin
- will still make its way to theaters.
The heads of Miramax, brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, have personally
purchased all rights to Dogma for a reported $10 or $11 million,
with plans to sell domestic distribution rights to an unrelated company.
The arrangement likely will become a way by which Disney and other major
studios attempt to minimize their involvement with risky films, according
to one report.
"Stick a different label on it, create a new company, put it out
under that and create a shield for the parent company," Hollywood
Reporter executive editor Stephen Galloway told the business news program
Marketplace on public radio April 8.
"And, I'm sure that's what you're going to see happening from now
on," Galloway said.
Catholic League President William Donohue, in an April news release,
said his organization now will target the Weinsteins and whichever company
"is dumb enough" to handle the distribution of Dogma.
Donohue recounted, "In December, Playboy commented on Dogma
by saying, 'If members of the Catholic League don't picket this one, they're
Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission,
said he is "appalled that any major film distributor would make and
distribute a film as blasphemous and as deliberately inflammatory toward
people of religious faith as Dogma is. ... This movie will outrage
Roman Catholics and will severely dismay Christians of other faiths."
Miramax, in a statement quoted by The New York Times, April 8,
said Dogma "should be taken as a whole: a satire from a film
maker who himself is a practicing Catholic with a solid foundation of love
and reverence to faith."
The film's director, Kevin Smith, told The Times his film was
"from first to last always intended as a love letter to both faith
and God almighty."
Donohue told The Washington Times, meanwhile, "This is not
a love letter - it's hate mail." He added, "If Jews can complain
about [Palestinian sympathizer] Vanessa Redgrave in movies playing Jews,
we can complain against this."
The Catholic League launched its Disney boycott in 1995 over Miramax's
Priest. In 1998, the organization revved up again against the Disney/ABC
show Nothing Sacred, which featured a priest with an array of liberal
views at odds with the Catholic Church.
The American Family Association also began its Disney boycott in 1995,
citing a decline in moral and family values at the entertainment conglomerate
from the days of founder Walt Disney. The boycott has since been joined
by the Southern Baptist Convention (in 1997), Focus on the Family, the Assemblies
of God, Concerned Women for America, and other religious groups.
Among earlier concerns raised by proponents of the Disney boycott are
the Disney-owned ABC initiative to make Ellen the first sitcom with a lesbian
lead character on network TV; films of objectionable violent and/or sexual
content, such as the Miramax subsidiary's Pulp Fiction and Kids;
cooperation with homosexuals holding "Gay Days" at Disney theme
parks; extending health benefits to partners of homosexual employees; and
the Hyperion subsidiary publishing of books promoting homosexuality, such
as Growing Up Gay.
The SBC boycott resolution in 1997 noted, "... this is not an attempt
to bring The Disney Company down, but to bring Southern Baptists up to the
moral standard of God," because: "Everything Christians possess
of time, money, and resources is given to them by God as a stewardship for
which they will give an account before a holy God ... ." The resolution
urges "all Southern Baptists to graciously communicate the reasons
for their individual actions to The Disney Company and other companies,"
noting Disney "is not the only such provider" of morally objectionable
movies and television programs.
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