‘Gosnell’ bares the need for movies presenting differing points of view

‘Gosnell’ bares the need for movies presenting differing points of view
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Before the Academy Awards in March of 2000, then-Republican Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott was interviewed by the legendary Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” During one of Russert’s characteristically tough interviews, the two men discussed a series of relevant and timely issues, including gun control, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and America’s rising gas prices.  Winding down, Russert closed with a lighthearted question, smiling as he asked the longtime Mississippi senator, “Who’s going to win the Oscars?” to which Lott eagerly responded, “Well, I saw ‘The Cider House Rules.’ I enjoyed that tremendously. … It was great. Best movie.”

Eighteen years later, this presumably innocuous comment would ignite a firestorm in Hollywood, New York, Washington and throughout much of the South. Being a pro-life, southern conservative Republican, Lott would face everything from clear condemnation to outright jeering for complimenting any attribute of a film which, according to Slate, “makes a heartfelt case for a woman’s right to have an abortion.”  

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Based upon John Irving’s fictional bestselling book of the same name, “The Cider House Rules” was a tremendous box office success never lacking for media attention, public accolades or theater placement. The film tells the story of Dr. Wilbur Larch, a mild-mannered orphanage director played by Michael Caine, who in 1940s New England performs illegal abortions alongside his young apprentice, Homer Wells, played by Tobey Maguire. Initially, Wells opposes abortion but his views quickly evolve after coworker Rose Rose (Erykah Badu) almost kills herself attempting to terminate an incest-induced pregnancy.  

Upon winning the Oscar for best-adapted screenplay, Irving thanked the Academy “for this honor to a film on the abortion subject,” as well as Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax “for having the courage to make this movie in the first place” and “everyone at Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion [and Reproductive] Rights [Action] League.”

More recently, following an aggressive crowdfunding campaign, conservative filmmakers Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer released “Gosnell, The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer.” Like “The Cider House Rules,” the film delves head-on into the abortion debate, but from the pro-life end of the spectrum.  

McElhinney’s and McAleer’s movie tells the true, heart-wrenching story surrounding the trial of Kermit Gosnell, an unscrupulous doctor operating what is seemingly the United States’ most abhorrent women’s abortion clinic located in the heart of one of Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods. Their motion picture vividly illustrates the investigation and trial leading to Gosnell’s 2013 conviction for many crimes, including first-degree murder. Gosnell was known to snip the necks of late-term babies born alive in botched abortion attempts.  

Unlike Irving’s film, McElhinney and McAleer have faced an arduous uphill battle in getting movie houses to screen their work. Their struggles are most apparent in America’s most progressive enclaves. At present, according to the movie’s website, the film is not being shown in Boston, Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles. In Philadelphia, “Gosnell” is being shown in a single theater nearly 18 miles from the site of its namesake’s infamous Women’s Medical Society in West Philadelphia.

“Gosnell” is unlikely to be nominated for an Oscar, or even a Golden Globe. The few reviews it has garnered, beyond conservative outlets, have been far from glowing. The Los Angeles Times’ Michael Rechtshaffen labeled the work a “sensationalistic … drama” that “adopts a sanctimonious tone that’s anything but subtle.” NBC posted a review by freelance writer Robin Marty, asserting that “legal abortion is vilified by the pro-life Gosnell movie, which inadvertently shows the dystopia of a post-Roe America.”     

“Gosnell” brings forth a valid case in this polarizing debate. But because of partisan politics and the unanimity of mainstream media, it is unlikely to get the attention and recognition it deserves.  With national discord and dissonance on the rise, it is doubtful that any pro-choice supporter or well-known progressive figure would dare praise or even reference such a film.

This situation is especially unfortunate because, in truth, both “Gosnell” and “The Cider House Rules” shine some much-needed light on the plight of lower-income women when faced with the overwhelming challenges and painful decisions associated with an unintended pregnancy.  

Bruce Backman is president of Backman Consulting, a New York-based political consulting firm. Follow him on Twitter @BackmanConsult.