Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
I'm worried about this: Just who is going to show up in theaters this week for the opening of “Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer”? Will abortion advocates shell out 10 bucks to permit Hollywood to challenge their hard-core political proclivities? Or will only Christian moviegoers make an appearance, so that director Nick Searcy is left preaching to the proverbial choir of pro-lifers about the evils of abortion?
The Story of a Serial Murderer
“Gosnell” has the moxie to recount a story that's been the bane of abortion supporters: the police investigation and trial of shamed Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell. Gosnell is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole, convicted of first-degree murder for severing the spinal cords of three babies who were born alive during an attempted abortion, and involuntary manslaughter in the death of an adult patient, Karnamaya Mongar. In actuality, his crimes far exceeded that: In 2011, Gosnell and various co-defendant employees were charged with eight counts of murder, 24 felony counts of performing illegal abortions beyond Pennsylvania's 24-week time limit, and 227 misdemeanor accounts of violating the 24-hour informed consent law.
“Gosnell” is a compelling detective story, a psychological study of a twisted individual, a drama in which truth wins out against political pressure. It resists the temptation to titillate – not showing, for example, the actual bodies of babies stored in Gosnell's freezer; and for its restraint, it earned a PG-13 rating, making it suitable for teens as well as adults.
The script, the cast, the filming are all excellent. Dean Cain, best known to his fans as Superman, is a handsome investigator who refuses to look the other way, as others have done, when the squalid conditions at Gosnell's clinic are exposed. He insists that the case is about murder, not abortion; and in the end, he sees the arrogant Gosnell stripped of his medical license and hauled off to prison.
Resistance from the Left
But from the beginning, “Gosnell” has met resistance from those who would protect the sacred cow of abortion rights. When the project was announced in 2014, less than a year after Gosnell was sentenced to life in prison, the filmmakers sought to raise funds through crowdfunding; but Kickstarter censored the project from their website, requesting that phrases such a “1,000 babies stabbed to death” and “1,000s of babies murdered” be removed or modified to comply with their Community Guidelines. In the end, the filmmakers turned to Indiegogo to appeal for funding. They reached their goal of $2.1 million in less than two weeks, and the film remains one of the most successful crowdfunding projects of all time.
Distribution was also a stumbling block: Although the film was completed in 2015, no distribution company was willing to tell the story in Hollywood. Cortney O'Brien wrote at Townhall.com,
“You'd think Hollywood would jump at the chance to help tell the story of 'America's most prolific serial killer,' as ABC's Terry Moran described him. Yet, the film about late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of killing babies born alive in his Philadelphia abortion clinic, is being shunned by many Hollywood distributors as too 'controversial.'”
Director Nick Searcy analyzed Hollywood's cautious reaction to the film. In an op-ed in National Review, Searcy wrote:
"The film has a gritty 'just the facts, ma’am' style, is well acted, with powerful, moving performances by Dean Cain, Sarah Jane Morris and Michael Beach, among many others, and moves like a bullet train. So why has it taken three years to be released? I realize, looking back, that I was quite naïve about how this film would be received. I truly believed that if we did it the right way, even the so-called Hollywood Left would appreciate our fairness in telling the story, see its value, and, furthermore, share our goals in getting this important story before the public.
"Sadly, I was wrong. As I said, this town runs on fear — the fear not only of failure but, more insidiously, of being shunned because of your political opinions. I was gratified by the talented people in this industry, many of them who differed with me politically, who did believe in our script and were willing to come on board. But many people, some of them good friends of mine, declined to work on this film, not because of its quality but because of the fear of reprisal or even ostracism by the groupthink herd in Hollywood. More than once, I was asked questions like 'Are you crazy?' or 'Are you sure you want to do this?'
"This film had to go around Hollywood to make its way to the audience. That is a long and difficult road right now — but the trail has been blazed. Movies such as the recent hit I Can Only Imagine have forged it, and found their audiences. While it might just be a rocky wagon trail now, I can see a day when it is a mighty freeway, bringing films with all viewpoints to the audiences who want to see them."
Concerned that the left-leaning media – which largely ignored the 2013 murder trial – would not help to promote “Gosnell,” the filmmakers planned a campaign utilizing social media and word-of-mouth to garner support for the film. Executive producer John Sullivan told the Washington Times that their marketing budget would focus on women 35 and older living within 15 miles of a theater showing the film. Sullivan added that they were “not naive” about the increased public conversation about Roe v. Wade sparked by the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, and that they would “embrace it in a way and have a discussion about it.”
“Gosnell” opens on Oct. 12 in some 750 theaters across America. In a perfect world, the provocative story of Kermit Gosnell would attract both conservatives and liberals, pro-lifers and abortion advocates to theaters this weekend.