Now Playing In a Theatre Not So Near You: Creation

http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2009/sep/25/creation-charles-darwin-british-film

Ever heard of the film, Creation? Me neither. Perhaps because this film never got much praise within the United States. Not a single U.S. distributer wanted to pick up this title until more than four months after its initial release in the UK and world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. With so much global attention, this title only played in 5 cinemas in the U.S. Why?

Creation is about the life of none other than Charles Darwin, his extremely religious wife, and the growing tension between them due to the research Darwin conducted for his book, The Origin of Species. For fear that this title may stir up too much controversy and steer away viewers, U.S. distributors avoided purchasing the rights to show the film.

This film was created by BBC Films and the UK Film Council and made releases in various countries worldwide including Canada, Japan, Greece, Australia, and Belgium; however the U.S. was the last country to find a distributor because of our nation’s controversy over Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Although most UK foreign films do not make an impression in the American cinema scene, this movie had worldwide attention and recognition as it was the opening film at the Toronto Film Festival. The film’s producer, Jeremy Thomas, worked to promote the film and fight for its eventual U.S. release saying, “It’s quite difficult for we in the UK to imagine religion in America. We live in a country which is no longer so religious. But in the US, outside of New York and LA, religion rules.” (telegraph.com).

While Thomas does not reside in the U.S., he does bring up an important point that our nation is quite divided among the liberal urban dwellers and conservative rural citizens. Compared to other western civilizations, the U.S. a much lower acceptance rate for the theory of evolution. According to sciencemag.org the UK and US have the same level of awareness of Darwin’s theory (71%) but US’s acceptance is 41% compared to 62% for the UK as of 2009 (the year of the movie’s release).

Is it necessarily true that this movie’s controversial theme was the reason for its lack of success? Do you believe that films with controversial themes are less popular among viewers, when films such as Brokeback Mountain or Planet of the Apes dominated the box offices during their releases? Can we attribute this movie’s lack of U.S. success because of it’s theme on evolution?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/6173399/Charles-Darwin-film-too-controversial-for-religious-America.html

http://blogs.sciencemag.org/origins/2009/07/evolution-theory-and-religious.html

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38 Responses to Now Playing In a Theatre Not So Near You: Creation

  1. sm4321 says:

    wow slowdownyourmind – I had never heard a thing about this film until reading this article! I know that there have been instances of countries blocking certain films from theaters in the past but I didn’t know that was still occurring, especially for a topic as soft as this one. It would be too one sided to claim that the theme of the movie had nothing to do with its lack of success, but so would the opposite. The content of the movie obviously had some effect on the decisions of individuals to watch or not watch this film. However I do not think that it is justifiable not to show the film in America, especially because of laws we have in place such as freedom of speech.

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/sep/21/creation-film-us-science-evolution
    This article by Steve Guess points out that while our morals may guard us from films such as this one, there are indeed consequences for this decision. He speaks on the truth that if Americans do not get their head out of the clouds, science will leave us, as a nation, in the dust. In this light, should those of the scientific and political community do more to ensure that films such as this one receive a voice? Or should they “sit down and shut up” and accept the constraints of those who are bound to their beliefs and refuse to consider the facts as presented by science?

    • That’s quite an interesting article! I really like that it focused on the United States as an exceptional individual that really does separate its beliefs from those of the rest of the world. Your questions also raise a good point, should anyone intervene with this issue? I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a censorship issue, so i’m unsure of the actual effect the scientific or political community would have. This becomes a social issue, especially within the movie business. These distributors are aware that they would not make enough money off of these films because of the public’s disapproval. Do you think that if enough distributors decide to show the film, it could have been accepted by the public or criticized?

      • punky1218 says:

        I think that the film would be criticized or praised based on whether someone believes in creationism or evolution. I think that it would be praised by enough people to be accepted in the US.

      • regan1984 says:

        Keep in mind that there probably was a heavy influence of what was going to make the theater companies and film distributors the most profit. However, I would agree that this is mostly an issue of social concern rather than profits.

      • sunny2018 says:

        I don’t think this is a censorship issue at all, and I don’t think that distributors chose not to show the film because of public approval. Technically, this is an ‘indie’ film, and unless its predicted to have great success, it won’t have mass releases. In fact, I think that if it WAS billed as controversial, it would have been more popular. Reactions would definitely be mixed based on personal opinions of the viewer, but I don’t think it would bring inherent public dissaproval.

    • It is not as if the movie was banned. Film distributors simply did not think it was in their interest to show the film. Saying things like “freedom of speech” and “censorship” implies that the government prohibited the movie. I think this was just a good business decision for distributors.

  2. gatorade15 says:

    Very interesting article slowdownyourmind! I also had never heard of this movie until now. It’s funny how so many biblical based movies are created and fare so well at the box office (i.e.. Noah, Son of God to name some recent ones), but ones such as this film about Charles Darwin are treated as the plague and avoided by theaters in America. It does say a lot about our country as a whole; we are so sensitive to appeasing religion and its followers that we sometimes fail to address certain scientific findings and teach our younger generations these ideas. This is easy to see in the statistics; our children in this country are doing worse and worse in math and science compared to children form other countries, slowly sending Americans from the top to the middle. Who knows maybe well even end up towards the bottom if we don’t start to educate our younger generations without the fear that religious entities will become upset.
    What do you guys think? Is our sensitivity to religion and its ideas going to hinder America in the future?

    • sm4321 says:

      Yes, Gatorade15. I think that America’s sensitivity to religion and ideas will without a doubt hinder the future. While this is true for us, I am sure that it is true of many other nations in our would who have more conservative ideas and in whose culture religion plays a huge role in their lives. How will this presence of values split the world? Do you think there will come a time when there is also a presence of “leagues”? Nations who accept science regardless of controversy, and who act to research it more and educate their youth being the top end, and those who refute the science due to controversy and shield their youth from it being those on the low end?

    • jwmigook says:

      I understand the point you’re making, and I’d also like to point out that religion is something that is deeply rooted in the history of the United States. A lot of people are still very much religious, but in recent decades I would say there has been a shift towards more “independent” thinking and (I guess you could say) a straying from religious thought. I have also read articles about the inadequate education system in America, but I wouldn’t say that people’s sensitivity to religion is the only factor that goes into determining the reason why children in America are falling behind in math and science (it’s not a falling behind in those two fields only, either).

  3. gwuw2014 says:

    A documentary I had to watch for another class touched on the unease between Darwin and his wife, to the point where a contributing factor to his delaying publication of “On The Origin of Species” was his unwillingness to discuss his theory with her. Had Alfred Russel Wallace not contacted Darwin with a theory similar to his of natural selection, Darwin may never have made his theory known beyond his close circle of colleagues. This poses an interesting question: is America’s unwillingness to address the evolutionary controversy preventing our nation from making further advances in the field of evolutionary biology?

    • greyelephant1 says:

      gwu2014, this is an interesting question! I personally do not think that the controversy is freezing our advancement because scientists are still researching and collecting evidence. Even though many may not agree with the concept of evolution does not mean that those who do are going to forget about it.

    • That’s a great parallel to draw upon. Even Darwin himself was afraid to approach his religious wife about the issue just as our society now is afraid of offending the religious community. Criticism is a key component of any debate but the unwillingness of Americans to address the evolutionary controversy is the problem that lies within the lack of accurate information in the public sphere. This can relate back to Cecceralli’s piece on manufactured controversy. This unwillingness to address the issue is exactly what the opposing side aims for, a controversial gridlock. This gridlock should not hold back the scientific community but it can hinder public acceptance is these manufactured debates continue.

    • I don’t think that America’s overall reluctance on the topic of evolution so much hinders the advances of the actual evolutionary biology. However, I could see how it could hinder the distribution of and conversation on the findings of those in the evolutionary biology field. I think that scientists are not afraid to conduct research and pose questions on evolutionary bio within the bubble of colleagues in their own field, but taking it out of that bubble of scientific comfort and acceptance could have an added layer of intimidation because of public controversy.

  4. glowcloud says:

    This reminds me of another movie that distributors refused to bring to the US called Four Lions, a satirical film about jihadists. Perhaps religion is the common theme that makes these movies unsuitable for American audiences, although I’m not sure whether its because we actually take ourselves too seriously in this arena or whether these are just false perceptions that we have. In other words, can American audiences actually handle religious controversy or are we right in assuming that they can’t?

    • I truly believe that healthy debate can be enlightening experience for both religious and secular communities. Showing this movie could actually be beneficial to educating the community on the debate that plagues our nation. Avoiding the controversy would never allow us to get to the accurate facts.

    • arcanium82 says:

      Glowcloud,

      You bring up a good point. I think we have to assume that Americans can’t handle religious controversy in movies. I am not surprised that this film did not have mass distribution in America.

      Let’s take a look at a recent pro-Creationism film that did come out and was widely distributed in America: Noah. This is a movie about a story that almost everyone knows, whether you are religious or not. With the amount of Christians in America you would assume that this movie would have done exceptionally well at the box office, but it didn’t.

      In fact, many reviewers chastised this film. They felt that it didn’t follow the children’s story type narration of Noah’s Ark. Also, religious critics felt that the movie didn’t talk about God enough.

      Noah is a film taken, quite literally, out of the pages of the Bible and yet it still wasn’t enough satisfy the American public. This was also apparent in the History Channel miniseries “The Bible” last year. This was 600 minutes of pure Biblical storytelling on a major basic cable network and still critics were unsatisfied by it’s portrayal of these classic stories.

      I feel that religious entertainment is a Catch 22 in America. Even if you take stories straight out of the Bible the religious community will reject it. And if you take a stance against Creationism, good luck getting it into theaters or any reputable television channel.

    • pianokid123 says:

      glowcloud, your question brings up interesting points such as the extent to which we still have censorship even though we supposedly have freedom of speech. I know off the top of my head, The Golden Compass was distilled of much anti-religious material when transitioning from book to movie due to fear of religious audiences. This supports your hypothesis that Americans are too sensitive to hear critique on religion (http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/story?id=3970783).

  5. greyelephant1 says:

    slowdownyourmind, I really enjoyed this topic. I had never heard of this movie before and it is interesting to wonder whether it is the topic of Darwin or the specific movie itself that developers did not want to produce it in the US. I agree with the blog responses above on how there are plenty of other movies based off biblical ideas and maybe that could mean the US tends to favor those types of movies. It could also be because of the scientific facts the movies tries to portray and that could cause the audience to lose interest. In general, I believe the divide in beliefs in the US plays a vital role for the lack of support of this movie. But speaking of controversial themes, I do not think that controversial themes in general have a tougher time having success in US cinemas. Think of all the disgustingly graphic movies such as the human centipede and the Exorcist. Both in general had success and many viewers did not approve. I think that the subject of evolution is, as we have established, a hot topic that people are more sensitive to, therefore, films relating to it are less successful for the US.

    • graduallychanging says:

      Greyelephant, I had not heard of the movie “Creationism” either. I liked that you compared the controversy surrounding “Creationism” with that of graphic horror movies. Your comparison helped me see the divide between controversies of the movie scene that are incited due to religious issues versus those that are due to the presence of violence or gore. I agree with you in that I do not think “controversial themes in general have a tougher time having success in US cinemas.”
      According to IMDb, the Exorcist has grossed $204,565,000 in the United States. The movie also has a score of 8 that was based on the reviews of 242,441 users. IMDb’s statistics indicate that “disgustingly graphic movies” are favored because they sell. Unlike religious films, controversy surrounding horror movies does not seem to severely impact revenue. If it does, it does not impact revenue in a negative manner.
      I personally do not find it surprising that movie distributors would refuse to purchase rights to a movie out of fear of losing profit. They are businesses, after all.
      The Exorcist’s box office information:
      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070047/business?ref_=tt_dt_bus

  6. thinkbrush says:

    We talk a lot about the culture around the theory of evolution and how odd it is that there is a culture around a scientific matter. This article does a great job of directing attention to actual effect this has in the US and compares it to the rest of the world. This article below discusses how so many Hollywood executives claim that there are so few movies produced with female main characters because women don’t “travel well” (Hickey). I don’t want to draw exact comparisons between the oppression women face globally as perpetuated by disgustingly rare fair representation in media and the lack of screen time Darwin is getting in the US but I think these similar situations deserve comparison.

    http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-dollar-and-cents-case-against-hollywoods-exclusion-of-women/

    • I really like this connection between the suppression of the evolution controversy and the avoidance of woman leads in the cinematic world. This brings up an earlier point that we don’t want to address most controversial issues in mainstream. This keeps from having the public erupt in arguments. However there is no reason the movie industry to avoid either of these topics. The public should be aware of the controversy in order to be educated. Your article shows how susceptible the movie industry is to popular public opinion or status quo.

    • This is a really interesting parallel, thinkbrush. Im a huge supporter of equal representation of any and all demographics in media, and I think that it is interesting to look at Darwin as one of those demographics. To use media representation of female actresses as a template for evolution could be a useful way to go forward and make Darwin’s ideas better represented in the media.

  7. punky1218 says:

    The article seems to suggest that the reason the movie is not gaining traction is not the topic but that independent movies are becoming harder to sell. A quote from the third paragraph of the article: “But the sad truth is that the value of the US market has shrunk dramatically for British movies of all stripes, independent movies in particular.” I think a movie on a larger scale about creationism would gain a lot of traction in the United States. The creationism-evolution debate creates a lot of movie worthy drama that I think an American audience would love to see.

    • I agree. The topic does not seem to be the problem. Even American made Independent movies have a hard time gaining traction.

      • I’m aware that the article focuses on that aspect of the film. There are many British films that have had success in the United States. I wanted to focus on the issue that distributors avoided buying the rights to show the film and even the producer wanted to blame the anti-evolution majority in the United States.

    • jwmigook says:

      I would agree with you as well. I didn’t pay enough attention to the comments the original poster made regarding the market shrinking for independent movies in particular, but I have not heard anyone discussing this movie in particular and I think the only reason I’ve seen part of it is because it happened to be playing on TV while I was visiting another country (not even the United States, where it would gain more attention if broadcast on a movie channel).

      • macnplease says:

        While this may be true, a significant contribution to the lack of success of this film in the U.S. is theaters’ hesitancy to buy it due to their fear of angering their audiences and turning away potential viewers. British movies often do not compare to the scale of Hollywood films, true, but that shouldn’t stop the thousands of smaller theaters from wanting to buy this film.

  8. jwmigook says:

    This was a really interesting article. I didn’t think I recognized the movie title at first, but I actually vaguely remember watching part of the movie; I remember particular scenes when I could see the tension between Darwin and his wife because of his publication of “On The Origin of Species.” I definitely don’t think the movie wasn’t released just because of its controversial theme, because there are plenty of other controversial movies that attracted a lot of attention and were released in cinemas everywhere. One example would be the movie Olympus Has Fallen; I only heard about it because I saw a lot of people on Twitter making insensitive comments generalizing Asian people after watching the movie (even though it was a film centered around North Koreans specifically).

    • Great that you’ve seen this movie before! You mention in an earlier comment that you saw it in another country. I find that really interesting! You don’t think that this could have been because of America’s unaccepting nature of the film? Obviously many factors play a role in its lack of success in the United States. It’s hard to deny our country is less accepting especially because this movie is playing on public television in other countries.

    • regan1984 says:

      In terms of the conversational gridlock and the fact that it seems as if no one wants to really address the issue of creationism vs evolution, I’m starting to wonder if it might be better in the long run to begin to release movies and other pop culture items like “Creation” because it might give people a reason to begin talking about these subjects. Granted obviously there would be lots of arguments and probably a lot of hate, I think at this point that’s the best way to foster a conversation about something lots of people don’t really want to talk about. On another note, yeah I don’t necessarily think the fact “Creation” was about a controversial topic was the reason it wasn’t picked up in the US. Just look at James Franco’s new movie The Interview.

      • In regards to your comparison to “The Interview”, most Americans are in agreement that North Korea is an repressive regime. As I cite, in my post, only 39% of American trust the theory of evolution. I believe that this minority is not enough to have this movie gain enough popularity to be accepted in the American film industry. Do you think that there could be any other pop culture reference that gain a large amount of success when the majority of our population is unaccepting of it?

        • regan1984 says:

          I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking. There are a lot of films that have been pulled or not released due to similar reasons to “Creation”. I’m not sure there are many other comparable films that were not released in the US due to their premise regarding something that is to be believed. I think this is a unique example simply because of the issue in question, that of creationism v evolution. I do, however, believe there are other films that have been either not released or pulled from production because of the fear of too much controversy. For instance, there was a film regarding the death of Princess Diana that was turned away because made a strong claim that the Princess’ death (and her boyfriend’s) was due to a successful murder plot. Essentially, the plot was feared to make viewers too uncomfortable and thus would stir up strong feelings about the subject. However, I do think you’ve raised an interesting point. Is there another instance in pop-culture that is directly relatable to that of “Creation”‘s release?

    • I agree with you, jwmigook. If anything, i feel like the controversy of this film would make it more successful, not less.

  9. macnplease says:

    Another sad example of how the religious stubbornness of our nation inflicts damage on the advancement of people’s exposure to new information. I’m always embarrassed for our country whenever I am reminded of the rates of acceptance for Darwinian theory here compared to the rest of the world. I do not disrespect religion, but I certainly do not respect its inherent presentation of obstacles to the advancement of humanity. I would love to see this movie, as I’m sure it provides additional context to Darwin’s discoveries and his motives and thought processes as he conducted his research.

    In regards to your question, slowdownyourmind, I would say that it isn’t necessarily that any controversy inhibits the success of a film (specifically in the U.S.); if that were the case, any movie with violence/sexuality/death would never get off the ground. All of these are technically “controversial” subjects, and as such we allow only a certain demographic to be exposed to such subject matter. Even with the controversies of our time, like abortion, we can still see examples of these occur in new films. What makes this so different? Our country has a violent aversion to religious controversy. It is almost hypocritical, as there are other unpleasantries in films that probably SHOULD be more inappropriate to viewers over creationism vs. evolution.

  10. sunny2018 says:

    I hadn’t heard about this film until your blog post, but it seems very interesting! In my biological anthropology class, we watched a movie called ‘Darwin’s Legacy,’ which briefly detailed disagreements he had with his wife over his theories and her religion, and an entire film based on it seems interesting. I don’t, however, think that its lack of releases was due to controversy; after all, controversy sells very well. I think that the larger issue is that its a ‘foreign’ independent film. These films often have limited theatrical releases, no matter their content. I feel that if it was a mainstream release, it would create interesting conversation certainly; but I don’t think controversy is why the film was unsuccessful in the states.

  11. lumastan says:

    Like sunny2018, gatorade15, and so many other commenters, I too had not heard of the film prior to this blog post, but I do question why that is. Like the article and you, slowdownyourmind, point out, there is a great divide between “the liberal urban dwellers and conservative rural citizens”, but one can generally assume that the liberal, evolution-accepting urban dwellers make up a significant portion of the US population, enough so that the film would be shown in places throughout the country, such as urban metropolises in California, New York, the Pacific Northwest, an so on. The problem here, in my opinion, is such as sunny2018 points out: that its merely an independent foreign film. I find it hard to believe that there is not a huge market of forward thinking, evolution-supporting Americans who would absolutely go see this film. The problem here is not with evolution or religion, rather with the workings of a complicated entertainment industry.

  12. moneytrees3001 says:

    This article raises a lot of the same questions as the piece we read for class about the effect of the Scopes trial on the content of biology textbooks. After the Scopes trial states like Texas set strict requirements for textbooks used in school systems, requiring they avoid the topic of evolution. The big textbook suppliers suppliers, fearful of being cut out of large streams of revenue, had to modify their books, sacrificing truth and valuable information for income. This is no crime, just simple supply and demand. If the people of a nation don’t want something, its not in the interest of business to waste resources trying to sell it to them, and we can’t attack business owners for trying to operate efficiently. In the case of this article, film producers don’t want to waste money on a film that few people in the US are likely to support or buy tickets for. The problem for our free-market democracy: we can’t force the people to change their ideas, and we can’t force businesses to supply something the people don’t want. Whatever the solution is, I don’t think anyone is at fault in this situation.

  13. profschell says:

    I loved this discussion! I want to add one small bit of data to the puzzle, while recognizing that it’s not the entire explanation: this was not a very compelling film. I watched it at a private screening when it was released, and I was predisposed to love it. Unfortunately, it was tedious, irritating, and historically implausible (the film’s Darwin is haunted by the ghost of his dead daughter). Even a bit part by Benedict Cumberbatch could not save it–he was awful, too, as though the screenplay took down the entire cast and crew.

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