Unplanned, released in a limited number of theaters across the nation in March, tells the story of Abby Johnson’s conversion from a Planned Parenthood Clinic Director to a pro-life activist.
The movie came in 4th place in box office sales over opening weekend, doubling expected ticket sales, and earning over $6 million three days after its release. This unexpected success is accompanied by controversy and apparent censorship of an impactful Christian and pro-life story.
This is exactly why we should be paying attention.
Since its release, the movie has dealt with extensive censorship issues on social media. Twitter briefly suspended the movie’s account. Though it was restored, due to public outcry, this act of censorship leaves us with questions. Was it an executive decision, made by Twitter? Was it caused by a reaction from complaints by pro-choice users? Twitter claims that they suspended the account because it was linked to an account that violated the website’s rules. Is this vague claim true? The movie’s account also suffered a quick and drastic decrease in followers, which is also entirely unexplained.
It appears as if discussion and promotion of the movie is being intentionally suppressed by mainstream media. Furthermore, it appears as if the nature of this censorship is political.
Similarly, the R rating, given by the Motion Picture Association of America, was also politically controversial. Unplanned was likely the first Christian movie, produced by Pure Flix, to receive an R rating. It did not contain nudity, sexuality, or foul language. Did the movie deserve the rating that it received, or could it have been another attempt at censorship of conservative Christian voices by mainstream media?
Candidly, the movie graphically detailed surgical abortions, a chemical abortion, and the aftermath of a botched abortion. These scenes portrayed the ugly reality and the haunting violence of abortion. The R rating could serve as warning for parents who may not want their children to witness such images, or post-abortive women who may be disturbed by such images.
However, it is reasonable to ask why a 13-year-old girl is legally permitted to obtain an abortion without parental consent (depending on the state) but not permitted to watch a movie about abortion? Deserving or not, the R rating successfully reduced the number of teenagers that a pro-life message could reach. It also prevented advertisement of the film on most major cable networks.
The various censorship efforts by mainstream media demonstrate why we need to pay attention to discussion surrounding the movie and why we need to watch the film for ourselves.
Unplanned changes the stigmas and the generalizations typically attached to Christian-made movies. Often, Christian films, even high grossing movies such as Gods not Dead, written by the same screenwriters as Unplanned, are painfully predictable, naïve, and one-sided. Christian-made movies often tend to self-righteously “candy-coat” issues and remain blissfully ignorant to ugly realities – as if they are scared to touch anything that may actually represent the gospel of a savior that ate with tax collectors or prostitutes. It is as if they are afraid to acknowledge our call to live in the world.
Unplanned changes these stigmas in a remarkable manner. The power of storytelling is immeasurable. Telling a story truthfully is an act of bravery. Abby Johnson tells her story without reservation and it is a difficult story to hear. It is not a story that is blind to ugly realities. The abortion scenes are heart-wrenching and she highlights well the paralyzing hopelessness that women experience when facing a crisis pregnancy.
It is not a one-sided story. Viewers of the film will witness difficult truths, such as the fact that women who work for abortion clinics are rarely ill-intentioned. They truly believe that they are serving and helping other women.. They are not malicious adherents to the manipulative nature of the Planned Parenthood corporation and they do not revel in the death of an unborn baby. I believe they are simply misguided, as Abby Johnson tells us that she was for many years. Likewise, pro-lifers do not always practice love, nor do they always truly want to help women in crisis. Instead, they scream slurs and label women “baby-murders.” They hold up signs of aborted fetuses and utilize scare tactics. Like most things in life, there is more gray than black and white.
This point was made clearly in the distinction made between 40 Days for Life, a non-profit organization dedicated to quietly praying outside of abortion clinics and offering women the hope of another option, and the people dressed as grim reapers who harassed women as they walked into the clinic. The film does not naively believe that the divide between the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate is consistently black and white.
Another case often brought against Christian-themed films is their tendency to preach to the choir. Ideally, Unplanned will open thousands of eyes and reach just as many hearts. Ideally, it will create dynamic and edifying conversations between the two sides of the pro-life vs. pro-choice fence. I believe that it has the potential to accomplish all of this and more – especially because of its timely release. The current political atmosphere surrounding the issue of abortion is volatile. Heartbeat bills are being passed in numerous states, as well as born alive acts and late-term abortion laws.
Yet, what if the film only reaches conservative Christians? Is it then a waste of money? Would it then be a waste of a powerful story, told bravely? This is not the case. In my experience, conservative Christians may know what abortion is, the basic definition of terminating a pregnancy, and they may vote for politicians who uphold the sanctity of life, but they may not know what abortion means.
Most conservatives have not have witnessed the violence of abortion. They may not know that abortion is a violation of women’s rights. They may not know how difficult abortion is, both physically and emotionally. Conservatives may not understand the cold and manipulative nature of the abortion industry. They may not have heard the heartbeat of an unborn child. Conservatives may not have faced the reality of an unplanned pregnancy. They may not know that fetal parts are removed from abortion clinics in industrial-sized, blue barrels. Conservatives may not have witnessed a mother mourning a child she has never even met. There are so many people who do not know what abortion means. Just because abortion is a controversial and contentious issue does not indicate that the majority of people are well-informed, including conservative Christians.
Go and watch Unplanned. Go and appreciate the power of storytelling and the honesty of one Christian film. Go and learn what abortion really means. Go and support liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion.