‘Unplanned’ Directors on Death Threats and Taking ‘Refuge in the Sacraments’
Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman discuss how and why the pro-life film has struck a chord — despite media suppression.
Unplanned co-producers, directors and writers Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman recently sat down with the Register to discuss the obstacles they’ve faced in showing the film, which tells the story of Abby Johnson’s journey from an abortion business director to a pro-life advocate, in Canada amid death threats to theater owners.
They also discussed their presence at a July 11 White House social-media summit and the role their Catholic faith has played in their work on the movie.
I wanted to start by asking about the harassment that movie theater owners in Canada faced. How many theaters have backed out of showing Unplanned over this? How many have been facing harassment?
Chuck: We know of three directly, plus a chain. Well, there’s more than that. As of a week ago, there were only three individual theaters that had faced significant harassment in terms of pro-choicers coming to visit and attempting to discourage exhibition. That was with the first theater in Lethbridge. Leonard Binning is the proprietor there. They tried to discourage him from it, and then death threats started, and two theaters have backed out of exhibition because of death threats, what they believe to be credible death threats against the employees and managers and their families, by extension.
At least two of the chains — I don’t want to name which ones because I don’t want to create any difficulties with the relationships there — have faced a significant pressure to drop [showings]; and at least one of them is now facing a boycott from the pro-abortion crowd. The pro-abortion crowd keeps talking about creating a dangerous situation with the film’s presence, and yet the only danger that has been created has come from the pro-choice side.
Could you talk about the obstacles you faced in promoting and showing the movie in the U.S.?
Cary: The obstacles were from the first moment of inception … everything from our lead actress for the movie: Three times we lost the lead actress. In other words, they would back out, out of fear. One of them was a pastor’s daughter, and she chose to back out at the last moment, as well. All the way to suppression from Facebook, Google.
Chuck: Our R rating, which is completely undeserved. In Quebec, that will be going out with a “13” rating.
Cary: In other words, those are the equivalent of PG, straight PG-13 equivalents. I mean, this is obviously a subject matter that they [members of the Motion Picture Association of America] don’t like.
Chuck: Lifetime, Up network, Discovery — none of these stations would accept our advertising. Then Google warped their own internal guidelines and would not accept banner ads for us, all the way up to release. Then when we were released, if anyone shopped for a ticket, location or price, their local theater came up, show times came up; and for genre, it listed “drama/propaganda.” Now, no algorithm entered “propaganda” for us. That was a human decision. It was a malicious decision.
We said: Let’s look at other films and see what they’re labeled historically for genre. So we look at Fahrenheit 9/11 and some liberal stuff: not “propaganda.” We looked at some conservative stuff, Obama’s America: not “propaganda.” Then we went to the reductio ad absurdum; we went to Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will: not listed as “propaganda.” It’s listed as a “World War II/history.”
Cary: It’s a medal of honor for us that we’re the only movie in history that was labeled “propaganda” specifically and went into the movie theaters and then was a smash hit. We had six times the projection of the film critics on opening week.
Chuck: Twitter suspended our account on opening weekend, which is like suspending a political account on election night. They took our number of followers from over 200,000 to 200 and change.
Cary: Facebook people would get freezed out. I mean, there were people that their pages were “disappearing.” In the movie theaters, people would hold cardboard in front of the projectors so the audience wouldn’t see the abortion; they wouldn’t see the abortion sequence. … You’re talking about demonic interference from the absolute inception, and it goes on and on.
I wanted to ask about the sort of audience reactions you’d heard about, if there were instances of mothers reconsidering abortion appointments or abortion workers leaving the industry.
Cary: We talk to Abby every couple of days, and she runs And Then There Were None, which is designed to take abortion workers out of the industry. At the end of the movie, we put in something that said, “Your life matters. If you’re contemplating abortion or if you work in the abortion industry and you want out, call this number.” So on that number, we’ve been getting two to three abortion workers a day that want to get out of the abortion industry.
That’s No. 1. No. 2 is tremendous amounts of men coming out crying, saying, “I was involved, but now I understand and just totally asking for forgiveness.” We have had droves and droves of women come up to us. … I just got a call this morning, [the woman said]: “Sixty years ago, I had an abortion,” an illegal abortion obviously, and said, “I’ve paid for this every day of my life. It ruined my family. It ruined my life. It ruined everything. I’ve suffered with this, and for the first time in my life, I’m free. This movie has set me free.” I had one woman who called me up … she’s a popular speaker, had five abortions from [age] 16 to 20 and is now super pro-life. She came out and said, “Do not change a word of this. This is going to redeem. This is going to redeem every woman.”
We know that the cause that the Lord had us bring to it and do it for was to bring hope, love, forgiveness, redemption, not condemnation. The Lord didn’t say go and condemn these women. He said: “Go show the truth. The truth will set you free.” And on top of that, we’ve had droves and droves of women — I can’t even tell you how many — that have said, “I didn’t realize. I didn’t know. I was pro-choice — now I’m pro-life.”
Do you think there’s something uniquely powerful about Abby’s perspective because her story is about coming from one side to the other?
Cary: I think people are always fascinated when you get the inside story of somebody who lived something. So if Abby was just a person with an opinion or a reporter or a baseball player, whatever it is, you know; but she was a clinic director. … She was totally in. She was a Christian. She went to church on Sundays, and she bought into the lie. One day she goes into the operating room and sees the truth — now realizes: “I just murdered 22,000 children,” comes out and says, “I’ve got to do something about it. I’ve got to tell people the truth.”
The Lord works in mysterious ways, eight years on the journey. He takes us through the desert, but what does he do during that time? He prepares her to reveal the truth. Abby is like Saul of Tarsus. He believed he was killing the right people because he believed they were offending his God and such things as that. He got hit by lightning, was blinded. The only difference between Abby and Saul is Abby got hit by lightning, but she wasn’t blinded — her eyes were opened.
How has your Catholic faith informed your work on this film and your continued efforts to promote it amid all these obstacles?
Cary: My value system, my morality, my view on the world comes because I am trying to do what Jesus did, which is to become a saint. … The Lord called us about 10 years ago to come work for him. Well, if I didn’t have my Catholicism at that time, and I was a convert, I would not have done that. I would have stayed in the secular world. We were in the secular-world film industry for almost 20 years. I think it’s everything.
I believe, in the world today as we know it, if you’re a true Catholic, if you are really Catholic, not make-believe, not by name only, not just a Sunday “goer,” you get steeped in and you get refined in the faith to a point where you do come to this place where you cannot not stand up for something. You know what Jesus is expecting of you; now, what you do with that is up to you. That’s the hard part — we’re all scared. We’re all fearful.
Chuck: We just decided to go do it, and we felt like the Lord was urging us to trust in him and just go do it. I don’t know, without the sacraments and ready access to the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and reconciliation, I don’t know how you make this movie. I don’t know how you spend a process that takes years, ultimately, and go through it. That’s challenging, I think, to try to go do that; because we have taken refuge in the sacraments, I think, is easiest way to describe it, and I would be terrified at facing this particular challenge without that.
As an example, with the obstacles we’re facing on the international [distribution] two weeks ago, right before we left, we had a Mass of exorcism said for it by a priest who is a trained exorcist; and literally later that day, the doors open up in other countries. We saw doors start opening up in other countries which had been completely blocked. The priest said to us, too — he said, “Look, I really felt like something has been lifted as a result of this.”
The White House social-media summit: Could you talk a little bit about why you were included in that and what you anticipate discussing there?
Chuck: We can presume we know why we were invited. We were invited to testify a couple of months ago by Sen. Ted Cruz at the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on basically suppression of conservative thought. We detailed just very briefly after the R rating; and after the “no buys” on cable, we turned to social media for advertising. We had all the problems with Google. We had the problems with Twitter.
We went through just, line by line, all of the stuff that they did just very quickly. I believe that that’s why we got the invitation. I’m not sure exactly what’s going to be discussed, but I think that it’s about suppression of conservative thought and the bias of social media and looking forward to, it hasn’t been stated in the invitation, but, obviously, how is that going to effect the next election cycle? Because we have these social-media giants who were so clearly biased.
Cary: You know, one of the things that we said in a letter to the president, we said: We’re at the tip of the spear. We’re in Hollywood, and both the media and social media are trying to destroy us. They don’t like our message. They don’t like our life, the way we live. They don’t like our values. And so they’re suppressing, attacking and ripping us every which way they can — to the point where they cost us tens of millions of dollars on this movie, and they would like to put us out of business. If we would disappear, they would be happy.
If you had the mainstream media near you and you could give them a few pointers on reporting on the abortion issue, what would you tell them?
Chuck: Stop entering this arena with the talking points of the other side as your story and just looking for bias confirmation, because that’s all they’re doing.
Cary: Do you realize that every interview that we’ve taken, every single interview, we ask them this question, “Have you seen the movie?” They’ll say, “No, but I’m going to.” How do you write an article on a movie if you haven’t seen it? How do you make comments on TV if you haven’t seen it? It’s impossible.
What I would say to these people is: “Look, you want to disagree with us — fine. We would ask for fairness.” And we’re not going to get that because we know the world is not fair. The bottom line is: It goes back to what Jesus said, “If they love you, you’ve done something wrong. They didn’t love me. They’re not going to love you.” So you know what? We’re happy as clams.
Lauretta Brown is the Register’s Washington-based staff writer.