Despite bans and being blocked from airwaves this independent pro-life film managed to become a small hit.
On Friday “Unplanned” debuted in theaters. It is the dramatic story of Abby Johnson, a former director of Planned Parenthood who became a voice for the unborn and a pro-life activist. The title is arriving from Pure Flix productions, a studio that creates films for the Christian viewing audience. Though not considered a major film event it was granted a respectable release of a little over one thousand screens. It was projected to gross about $3 million for the opening weekend, and few gave the movie much of a chance, and it was expected to fade from the scene in a matter of weeks.
But then something happened on the way to obsolescence; the film became a surprising performer. This weekend the numbers came in and “Unplanned” actually managed to more than double the projections, earning $6.11 million. More than a fluke, the per screen average was actually the third highest for the weekend, a better performance than the hit “Captain Marvel” (in its fourth week of release.)
The prognostication of movie premieres remains an inexact science. Industry watchers use a variety of advance measurements to predict the probable performance of a particular film. Promotions, internet conversations, the viewing of the trailers, and even the social media exposure of the cast is all factored into the best-guess formula. The projections for “Unplanned” were modest to begin with, and then they were scaled downward. This was due to the challenges being thrown up for the release.
We detailed here over the weekend the film had its Twitter account shut down for a period of time, with no sound reason given for the ban. It was temporary, but it showed some of the levels of intolerance the movie has faced in the entertainment industry. More than having its account shuttered for a spell, “Unplanned” was also prevented from promotions of many broadcast outlets in the weeks before its release.
Fox News was a logical choice to run commercials for the movie, but as Pure Flix attempted to place spots in other outlets they were informed — repeatedly — that their commercials could not be run. They had attempted to run commercials on Lifetime, but received notification they could not be broadcast, because of the sensitive nature of the movie’s story. However it appears it was not the content the network objected to, but the stance of those presenting it.
As the Hollywood Reporter details it, the marketing team of “Unplanned” noted that Lifetime had previously run a segment with actress Scarlett Johansson where she promoted Planned Parenthood. So the issue of abortion was not the hot button reason to block the ads, it was the position of film makers to be pro-life in the film that was the problem. But Lifetime was hardly alone, as it is owned by A & E Networks, s o the commercials were off limits on all of their channels.
Also blocking the commercials were the Discovery networks, including its namesake channel, as well as The Travel Channel, HGTV, The Food Network, and The Cooking Channel. Additionally the USA Network, and The Hallmark Channel also balked at running commercials. (Those networks are owned by NBC.)
And there was one more additional handicap placed on the movie. The Motion Picture Association of America ratings board decided to yoke the movie with an “R-rating”, due to the gripping scenes in clinics. It could be argued this was another calculated effort to hinder the prospects of the movie, as the decision by the MPAA is recognized as another promotional challenge.
Because of the R-rating commercials for “Unplanned” also were prevented from showing on Up TV, as per its corporate policy. A number of Christian radio stations also declined the commercials for the same reason. This amount of resistance have led the producers to become creative and find other outlets of promotion. Last month at CPAC I spotted a promotional team reaching out to attendees, and they even staged a free screening one evening. Glenn Beck has been a vocal supporter of the film.
Despite all of these restrictions the producers managed to find its audience, and surprise the industry. These attempts to squelch an alternative voice on a political subject is a clear indicator of what conservatives normally face with the entertainment industry. Much like I covered earlier today, they are trying to influence the voters of the state of Georgia over a similar issue. It takes the collective voice of conservatives to battle back against those with the cultural bully pulpit.
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