Actor Chad Allen's lead role in a $30 million independent film stirred up a whirlwind of criticism last week. But his critics aren't reviewing his performance in the biopic End of the Spear; his sexual orientation is the issue at hand. Based on the memoir by Steve Saint, Spear chronicles the story of five Christian missionaries who were killed by Ecuadorian tribe warriors in 1956. The author returned to Ecuador decades later and forged a relationship with the warrior who killed his father, Nate Saint. Allen, a former child actor best-known for his role as Matthew Cooper on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, plays both Steve and Nate Saint in the film.
On Jan. 12—seven days before the film premiered at the AMC Theater in New York's Times Square—Spear producer Mart Green received a letter from the Rev. Jason Janz protesting the casting of Allen, a gay activist, in the lead roles. The letter was signed by 100 other pastors from across the United States. Janz, an assistant pastor at the Red Rocks Baptist Church in Denver, posted this version of his letter on his fundamentalist Christian website, SharperIron.com:
"Dear Mart Green and Every Tribe Entertainment,
We are writing to you to express our deep disappointment in your selection of a gay activist to play the role of Nate Saint in the movie, The End of the Spear. We believe it is our biblical responsibility to confront a fellow believer when he makes a mistake.
We have been asked over the last several months to aggressively promote this film to our congregations, however, we cannot do so because of this issue.
We look forward to hearing how you plan to rectify this unfortunate situation.
Janz also took Allen and the filmmakers to task on his website. "Does anyone really believe that Chad Allen was the best possible actor for Nate Saint?" Janz asked in his blog Jan. 12. "That would be like Madonna playing the Virgin Mary." Janz also criticized Allen's choice of stage roles. He wrote: "Every Tribe Entertainment chose a star who has appeared in plays that have degraded Christ and Christianity," a reference to Allen's appearance in Terrence McNally's controversial play Corpus Christi at L.A.'s Lillian Theatre in 2001. Allen also appeared in a production of the same-sex romance Save Me in 2003.
The assistant pastor later posted a slightly revised version of his Jan. 12 entry after participating in a two-hour conference call with Green; Randy Alcorn, director of Eternal Perspective Missionaries; and Mike Sproul, pastor of Tri-City Babtist Church in Tempe, Ariz.
Janz also told Back Stage Feb. 7 that he has established an ongoing dialogue with Green. "I have had regular contact with Mart Green. He is a very pleasant man with a heart for God and for people," Janz wrote via email. He has now turned his attention to critiquing the film in his blog: "I am grieved that the Gospel message was truncated in a movie that was supposed to be about five men who exalted it and gave their lives for it," he said Feb. 6.
Janz told Back Stage that he has sufficiently made his point about Chad Allen. "I always said that I had two issues: the gay issue and the incomplete handling of the Christian Gospel message. However, with the avalanche of email, questions, and interviews from my first article, it took me a while to get my second one out," he wrote.
Steve Saint, who served as a consultant on the film, was also incensed that a gay actor was hired to play his father and himself. "I could not imagine how something like this could slip through a professional screening process," Saint said in a Jan. 26 article on ChristianityToday.com.
Green, Spear director Jim Hanon, and producer-writer Bill Ewing defended their decision to cast Allen in a statement issued to Baptist Press News Jan. 20, the day the film opened on 1,162 screens across the country: "We cast Chad Allen because he had the best audition of anyone else by far. We know that the character in the film and the actor are not the same. If as a film company we could only work with people who were completely sanctified, then the film would never have been made. We do not agree with Chad over homosexuality…. We invite you to experience End of the Spear and then judge for yourself the message you are left with."
Hanon told The Associated Press that Every Tribe did not know Allen was gay until after he was cast in 2004. However, information about Allen's activism is widely available on the Internet, including on the actor's own website (www.chadallenonline.com). According to his site, Allen "came out" in the 10/9/01 issue of The Advocate and subsequently appeared on the magazine's cover numerous times. He has also opined on gay issues to numerous groups and recently appeared on Larry King Live to discuss the issue of gay marriage.
Allen has said little about the controversy. He told The New York Times that he was surprised he was offered the part at all. "When [Every Tribe Entertainment] offered me the part, my first thought was, 'Do they know who they're talking to?'" he said.
Allen's representatives did not return Back Stage's phone calls by press time.
Nevertheless, the Studio City–based production company would have broken California law if it had they fired Allen because of his sexuality. California Government Code Section 12940 prohibits employers from firing an employee due to his or her "sexual orientation" among other reasons, including "creed," "color," "sex," and "age." Currently, there is no federal law protecting gay workers from being discriminated against in the workplace.
It's Called Acting
"The most important issue is to cast the best person for a role. It's been a little hard for me to relate to some Evangelical Christians that this person has to match their personal belief system," Christian filmmaker and actor Richard Rossi told Back Stage. "God gives us talent, and we're supposed to do the most excellent work we can."
Rossi, who received an M.A. in biblical studies at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and currently helms Eternal Grace Church in North Hollywood, encountered similar criticism of his film Aimee Semple McPherson, a biopic of the famous Pentecostal Evangelist. "There were Evangelicals who thought 'She's a Pentecostal Christian leader, and you need an actress who's a Pentecostal Christian,'" Rossi said. "The actress we chose, we chose because she was the best actress. She happened to be Jewish, but she had a wonderful experience learning that world even though it was a new world to her."
He added that a group of Evangelicals offered to invest $2 million in the film, but only if the movie did not depict McPherson's divorce or drug overdose and that the actor playing the lead be a Pentecostal Christian. Rossi turned them down. "By saying no to conditions that religious people put on me, I feel I'm actually of more service to God and people because I make an honest film," he said.
Damon Romine, entertainment media director of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, agreed that an actors' sexuality and/or spiritual beliefs should not be factors to filmmakers. "Entertainment should be judged on its entertainment value, and actors should be judged on their acting ability. It's that simple," he wrote via email. "It's unfortunate that Chad had to deal with that kind of bigotry."
NBC a Target
Secular TV producers and filmmakers have also been pressured by Christian groups lately, particularly by the AFA. The network canceled its midseason replacement series The Book of Daniel after the group spearheaded a campaign against the show about a conflicted Episcopal priest. Several NBC affiliates refused to air the show; however, NBC said the cancellation was due to low ratings rather than the AFA's well-publicized protest. The show's premiere episode drew only 6.9 million viewers. Daniel's lead actor, Aidan Quinn, has not said whether his personal spirituality was a factor in his being offered the role. Calls to Quinn's representative were not returned by press time.
Last week, the AFA took NBC to task again by encouraging a boycott of an upcoming episode of Will & Grace guest-starring Britney Spears. NBC has announced the episode will not include the word "Cruci-fixins" that offended the AFA.
The group's website (www.afa.net) also states that NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit used its Dec. 6 episode to "champion same-sex parenthood while heaping disrespect and shame on the Catholic faith." The site also calls Oscar best picture nominee Brokeback Mountain "basically a propaganda piece…. Its message is going to be loved by Hollywood, so there's almost a sense in which Hollywood could not ignore this movie."
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