Darwin film 'too controversial for religious America'?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | September 16, 2009 10:40 pm

Creation: The True Story of Charles Darwin

The film was chosen to open the Toronto Film Festival and has its British premiere on Sunday. It has been sold in almost every territory around the world, from Australia to Scandinavia.

However, US distributors have resolutely passed on a film which will prove hugely divisive in a country where, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 39 per cent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution.

I sincerely hope The Telegraph is mistaken. The trailer looks intriguing and over at Panda’s Thumb Eugenie Scott calls it “a thoughtful, well-made film that will change many views of Darwin held by the public – for the good.” Not all reviews have been as favorable, but Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connolly tend to give solid performances. I’m interested to see this movie and hope it finds its way to a theater in the Research Triangle.

Would you buy tickets to Creation?

MORE ABOUT: Charles Darwin

Comments (15)

  1. John Kwok

    Sheril,

    Of course I would buy a ticket to see this and am glad Jon Amiel’s film depicts a Charles Darwin that many in the public know virtually nothing about. If nothing else, I hope that this film – once it is released here in the USA – goes a long way in countering many of the lies and half-truths about Darwin – both his personal life and scientific research – that have been the subject of ample lies, and gross distortions from evolution denialists for decades.

    BTW this film was featured prominently last spring at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival; the film’s debut was marked by a post-screening round table discussion which featured both Jon Amiel and Genie Scott as participants.

  2. Jessica

    I am definitely itching to see this. We were talking about it in my History of Biology class the other day, and my professor said something along the lines of wouldn’t it be depressing if the reason there’s no U.S. distributor is because they don’t think people would be interested – they think it’s boring. Controversy sells tickets, so I’m not sure that’s what is stopping U.S. distributors. I fear that they just don’t think we care.

  3. Ian

    I’m keen to see this and others on Darwin too. There is alsways a tendency to seperate a theory from the context in which it was developed, and having read a few reviews of ‘Creation’ I believe the movie addresses both very well.

    Einstein and Hoyle, amongst many others were influenced by their philosophies and experiences just as much as the many religious scientists who brought about the modern scientific era.

  4. ARJ

    It’s difficult to conceive that no distributor will take on this movie… slasher films are handed out like cotton candy, but THIS film is controversial or divisive? What gives???

  5. Much as I think the Darwin focus in the defense of the teaching of evolution is way, way overdone and likely counterproductive, the film should be shown. It’s commercial cowardice by poll addled businessmen that’s at the bottom of it. If they thought they could make money off of it there isn’t a movie too controversial or too bad for them to distribute and show. I’m very skeptical about those poll numbers about the percentage of the population that accept evolution, to begin with, am especially skeptical of the Gallup organization and I wonder if this couldn’t be just one more instance of bad polling having a bad effect.

    I think it’s time for people defending the wall of separation and the teaching of science to consider whether or not the practice of chaining those to the story of Charles Darwin has worked. If that number is the one you want to use, 39% of the population? I’m sure it used to be more than half. Clearly something isn’t being done right. About thirty years ago PBS had a whole series about Darwin on to little trouble that I can recall. Neil Armstrong did the intros.

    Just about all of the mainstream religious groups either accept evolution or they are at least open to considering it. The same media that has given the fundamentalists the floor just about every time that religion is talked about is the same media that is pushing the right wing agenda that uses the fundamentalists as a voting block to get into power since Reagan. Even under attack and, worse, a clear campaign to make them disappear, the more liberal religions are still around, still have millions of members. Maybe instead of attacking them the effort should try to find ways to work with them to organize a counter-force to the fundamentalists.

    Clearly something isn’t working. Continuing to do what hasn’t worked isn’t likely to get you better results.

  6. Thinking more, how many of the film distributors in the United States ONLY show films that are in total accord with the biblical fundamentalists? My guess would be not a single one.

    I think it’s probably a mix, including the overblown controversy. I’d guess it also wouldn’t be expected to do boffo box office in the mega-hit driven American movie industry that has kept so many of us out of the theaters. If they’re cowering behind the religion excuse, that’s the reason. Look how many movies they’ve shown that were controversial because of sexual content.

  7. Sorbet

    The controversy is ridiculously overblown. The film does not seem to engage in any straight attacks on religion; in fact it seems to almost entirely focus on Darwin’s relationship with his family. I am sure it will find a distributor soon as many would probably want to see it. I certainly do since both Bettany and Connelly are fine actors and Bettany did a great job playing a Darwin-like naturalist and doctor in “Master and Commander”

  8. CW

    Yeah, I’m not so sure it’s because of the subject matter that is keeping it from being distributed. I think it may just not be commercially successful because it’s a biopic. Those seem to only do well when it has a young successful actor like DiCaprio in “The Aviator.” Paul Bettany doesn’t really have that same kind of fame.

    This movie looks like it’ll be great (and I want to see it), but doesn’t it seem like a biopic about Charles Darwin is similar to a biopic on John Adams – to which it may have been more readily embraced in a cable network like HBO or Showtime?

  9. Walker

    You are over a week late on this issue. The latest news is that there may now actually a bidding war for this film.

  10. Erasmussimo

    The problem with this film is not its topic but its presentation. If they had only taken a few simple steps to improve the cosmetics of the film, it would be a smash hit. The lead, for example, should have been played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his wife played by Julia Roberts and his mistress (what, you didn’t know that Darwin had a torrid affair for 20 years? Well, it’s a dramatic imperative, so there!) should be played by Candy “Bubbles” Lamour. The plot should be improved with some ninja attacks, a few swordfighting scenes, and several exploding houses, as well as a wild carriage chase scene through London in which countless bystander carriages are smashed, overturned, tossed into the Thames, and explode in flames.

    Sheesh, these British just don’t know how to make movies that sell.

  11. Erasmussimo

    Oh, one other thing: they should have Darwin use his new theory to develop special tricks and devices so that he can travel around London wearing a mask, cape, and tights, fighting crime and saving innocent people. The film should be titled “EvoMan” And they should get that Chinese fellow who developed the nifty actor tricks for Matrix and Crouching Tiger, so that Darwin can climb up the sides of buildings and so forth using his “Evolutionary Advanced Climbing Skills”.

    And don’t forget the action figures!

  12. Davo

    As the website says, the fundies seem to be opposing this because it actually portrays Darwin as a kind and gentle human being (gasp!) and would make it so much harder for them to demonize him as the eugeneticist killer of humanity.

  13. Anthony McCarthy

    It would be interesting to see how a film about Motoo Kimura would do, though since he wasn’t a white Englishman it probably wouldn’t have gotten this far. Which is shameful in itself.

    There are other figures in evolution that probably could use more exposure than Charles Darwin. It gets to be just more repetition. I’ll never understand why the public relations of science keeps putting all its eggs in that one basket.

  14. gillt

    I think it fairly obvious they want to turn Darwin to into the Abe Lincoln of science. Hero-myths are all the rage.

  15. magistramorous

    I’d definitely see it. I love historical dramas and science!

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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