By David Roach
NASHVILLE (BP) — The pro-life movie “Unplanned” finished its opening weekend No. 4 at the box office and doubled its projected gross earnings — despite a suspension March 30 of the film’s Twitter account among other obstacles.
“Unplanned” also may have played a role in the Georgia state legislature’s adoption of a fetal heartbeat bill March 29, the film’s co-directors said, adding lead actress Ashley Bratcher has been invited to appear with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp when he signs the bill into law.
“The movie’s status as a hit defies logic,” Christian film critic Michael Foust told Baptist Press. “It was rated R — a rating that automatically makes it a no-go for many Christians. It’s about abortion — a topic that most Americans would rather avoid. And its ads were banned on many stations, including Lifetime, Travel Channel, Cooking Channel, HGTV, Food Network, Hallmark Channel and USA Networks.
“Most films would have failed in such a scenario. But the controversy about the rating and the advertising ban gave it attention it otherwise would not have received, sparking a backlash among moviegoers who supported it in droves,” Foust said in written comments.
Produced by Pure Flix, “Unplanned” tells the true story of Abby Johnson’s ascent to become one of the youngest Planned Parenthood clinic directors in America as well as her subsequent conversion to pro-life views. The film is based on Johnson’s 2011 book of the same title.
“Unplanned” brought in just under $6.4 million March 29-31, according to the website BoxOfficeMojo.com, which had projected the movie to gross approximately $3 million. All other movies in the weekend’s top five showed on at least twice as many screens as the 1,059 that showed “Unplanned.”
Amid the continued refusal of all but two major cable networks — Fox News and The Christian Broadcast Network — to air ads for “Unplanned,” the film had its Twitter account suspended Saturday. After social media users notified Twitter of the issue, the account was restored, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Twitter said the suspension was accidental.
The “Unplanned” Twitter account tweeted March 31 that it also had 50,000 of its followers removed without explanation. But “Unplanned” said today (April 1) its followers had been restored.
“It’s a sad state of affairs when the right to free speech gets shut down with the flick of a switch,” Konzelman told The Hollywood Reporter. Whether the Twitter suspension “was an executive decision by Twitter, or a reaction by Twitter to complaints from those opposed to the pro-life viewpoint, either reason is unacceptable. Fortunately, the uproar in our defense was loud and fast in coming.”
The R rating assigned to “Unplanned” by the Motion Picture Association of America — for some “disturbing/bloody images” according to the MPAA — was cited by some as evidence of media bias against the movie’s pro-life perspective. The film contains no profanity, nudity, or immodesty, Johnson wrote in an open letter to parents. Foust, for one, said the film “should not have been rated R.”
Despite the obstacles faced by “Unplanned,” it garnered Twitter endorsements from Vice President Mike Pence, who called it “a deeply inspiring new pro-life film,” and Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, who called it “a beautiful, realistic story of redemption and hope.” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. urged people April 1 to see “Unplanned” in his podcast The Briefing.
Konzelman and co-director Cary Solomon told the National Religious Broadcasters’ International Christian Media Convention that “Unplanned” was screened in Georgia hours before the state Senate approved the fetal heartbeat bill, which would outlaw most abortions after approximately six weeks of pregnancy.
At least one legislator who saw the movie “was wishy-washy” on abortion before the screening, Solomon said during a March 29 screening at NRB, “and she’s pro-life now.”
Konzelman said Gov. Kemp, a Republican who has signaled his support for the bill, “has asked Ashley Bratcher to stand next to him” when “he will sign the completed bill into law.”
As Georgia’s legislature debated and then passed the heartbeat bill, Bratcher and actress Alyssa Milano traded open letters about the measure.
Milano penned a March 28 open letter signed by 50 Hollywood actors calling the bill “evil” and threatening to “do everything in our power to move our industry to a safer state for women” if the heartbeat bill is enacted.
Bratcher responded that Georgia’s “brave leaders have stepped up to say enough is enough, we will no longer sit idly by as innocent lives are taken by the thousands each day.” Bratcher added that she adopted pro-life views while working on “Unplanned.”
Next weekend, “Unplanned” will expand to 1,700 screens, according to a news release promoting the film.
“‘Unplanned’ — and pro-life films like it — help shine a light on the ugly truth about abortion,” Foust said. “Thankfully, ‘Unplanned’ also offers a message of grace and redemption to those who have had an abortion or who have worked in the abortion industry. That’s the movie’s Kingdom-centric message. No sin is beyond the forgiveness of Christ, as Abby discovered. As we hear at the film’s end: ‘God is merciful.'”
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.