Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Reasons To Go To A Screening Of A Film About The Crucifixion of Jesus

From the WaPo's gossip-in-chief, here's one, you might not have thought of.

Another invitee, right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham, flew here from San Francisco to see the film but arrived too late and missed it. "I'm so bummed," Ingraham told us. "I want to see any movie that drives the anti-Christian entertainment elite crazy."

The film in question - Mel Gibson's "The Passion," said to be a somewhat eccentric retelling of the Easter story, based on a Catholicism so conservative it rejects Vatican II, and possibly the trend toward exonerating the Jews for Jesus' crucifixion. For a discussion of the curious passion of Mel and his father see the Orcinus post with the Playboy interview Atrios references below.

Among the other invitees to this secret screening of a two-hour "rough cut" of the film at The Motion Picture Association of America, in D.C. were such Republican and rightwing stars as Peggy Noonan, Kate O'Beirne, Michael Novak, Cal Thomas, Linda Chavez, and "White House staffer David Kuo, deputy director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives."

Conspicuous among those not invited - Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, who has expressed concerns about what role in Jesus' passion, the film assigns to Jews.

Jack Valenti found nothing objectionable in that regard and pronounced the film, a stirring work of art.

Yesterday when the lights came up, many in the audience -- who were required to sign a confidentiality agreement before being admitted to the screening room -- were in tears. Some were sobbing, we hear.

"Heartbreaking," Michael Novak told Gibson.

"Anti-Christian Hollywood" What do we think that means?

What caught my attention about thie article is that only days before, I'd happened upon an example of the Christian magnanimity of one of the attendees, Linda Chavez.

In a piece commenting on President Bush's recent trip to Africa, "Africa With Dignity," Ms. Chavez is drawn ineluctably by her own precise Christian moral compass into a highly negative comparitive judgement of President Bill Clinton's 1998 trip there, Africa without dignity, presumably.

President Bush went to Africa this week and issued a stinging rebuke against the United States' role in the slave trade, but his comments have not set off the firestorm Bill Clinton's offhand apology for slavery provoked when he made a similar trip in 1998.

Bush isn't known for his eloquence, but the speech he gave Tuesday at Goree Island, Senegal, was one of his finest.

Quotes follow culled from that speech. Turning to Clinton, Chavez becomes less precise, although she claims it's Clinton's fault.

Bill Clinton's words were far more elliptical in 1998: "Going back to the time before we were even a nation, European-Americans received the fruits of the slave trade, and we were wrong in that," Clinton said. If Clinton had stopped there, his comments might not have ignited such a furor...(edit)

But Clinton went further to conflate America's role in slavery with 20th-century American foreign policy.

Chavez offers a quote that seems to me to do nothing of the sort. But perhaps one has to be a Christian.

Significantly, none of the quotes were from the speech Clinton gave at Goree Island, certainly the obvious point of comparison.

But it wasn't only content, it was also context " that most differentiated the two presidents' pronouncements on slavery," in Ms. Chavez's mind, in any case.

Bill Clinton made his trip at the nadir of his presidency, while reporters were plaguing him to answer questions about sex scandals. Indeed, the most memorable image from his visit was a telephoto shot of him chomping on a cigar while he beat an African drum in Dakar the night he received news that a judge had dismissed Paula Jones' sexual harassment suit.

Africa was an escapist adventure for Bill Clinton, and no amount of moralizing about America's past failings could make up for his own moral deficiencies

What I find remarkable here, is the almost prenatural impulse to isolate Clinton from a presidential, or even an American context, even though Bush's trip was clearly a continuation of a Clinton initiative, and just as clearly, Bush was attempting to put his own imprint on making Africa more important in American foreign policy. Even when there's a reason to be united, this religiously political American right insists on dividing us.

What "you're either with us or against us," really means is that even when you're with some of our goals, if you're not one of us, we're against you, no holds barred, no tricks too dirty, no lies too shameless.