By: Cassandra Spratling, Detroit Free Press
Saturday, February 21, 2004
Professors Sandra Graham-Bermann and L. Rowell Huesmann discuss Mel Gibson movie The Passion of Christ' in light of the impact of media violence
Detroit Free Press
February 21, 2004
The movie's not even out yet and already "The Passion of the Christ," Mel Gibson's graphically explicit, R-rated film about the crucifixion of Jesus, is causing angst among parents and others about whether children should see it.
In addition to brutal depictions of Jesus' death, some fear the movie, which is to open Wednesday, is anti-Semitic or may incite anti-Semitism.
"With the R rating and the violence, I think it would be irresponsible of me to take my children, and it would be contradictory to the work we're doing in terms of their faith," said Steve Spreitzer, interfaith liaison for the National Conference for Community and Justice of Michigan, formerly the National Conference of Christians & Jews. He and his wife,Mary,have three children ages 7, 10 and 12.
"Based on the clips I've seen, one would inappropriately conclude that Jews are mean-spirited, blood-thirsty and retributive people."
But Lorri and James Delaney of Bloomfield Hills, parents of seven, plan to take their three oldest children -- ages 10, 12 and 15 -- to see it on Ash Wednesday at the Birmingham Palladium.
"I'm frankly excited to take them," Lorri Delaney said. "I want them to see what a sacrifice Christ made for each and every one of us."
She said she knows the violence is horrific because her 15-year-old son, Jamie, told her so. A sophomore at University of Detroit Jesuit High School, he saw still photos from the film at a youth retreat last summer.
Her son said he had not heard anything about the film being anti-Semitic, and as for the violence, he can handle it.
"I'm kind of looking forward to seeing it because of all the controversy and because it's supposed to be a good film," he said.
"From what I understand, they're not sensationalizing it or making it worse to draw an audience," Lorri Delaney said. She also said she doesn't think the movie will encourage negative feelings toward Jewish people.
What's most important, she said, is for parents to discuss the issues raised in the movie with their children, as she has been doing in recent days and will do after they see the movie together.
"I'd be neglecting my responsibility if we just went to see that movie and only said, 'Wow, that was a pretty graphic movie.' We've discussed this movie, and we'll discuss it some more. I'm not about to let my children think badly about Jewish people or anybody."
'Not appropriate for children'
But University of Michigan professor Sandra Graham-Bermann, who has studied the impact of media violence on women and children, said she would advise parents against taking children to see the movie.
"We know from media violence studies that children, especially young children, have difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality," Graham-Bermann said. "This movie certainly blurs those lines in its efforts to be historically accurate.
"The scenes of crucifying someone are not appropriate for children of any age, in my opinion. We know from research studies that children who have been exposed to previous violence, . . . children who experience or witness violence in the family -- a large number of American children each year -- these children are even more vulnerable to the negative effects of viewing extremely violent situations. This movie certainly qualifies for that."
The concerns about anti-Semitism also trouble Graham-Bermann. A Diane Sawyer TV interview this week with Gibson, the movie's director, didn't allay her fears.
"I am convinced that this is definitely an inaccurate portrayal of the Jews," Graham-Bermann said.
"I feel that children should learn tolerance and learn to appreciate individuals who are different from themselves," she said. "Any film that has the effect of dividing people, fostering hatred or fear should not be considered appropriate viewing for children.
"It is unfortunate that in these times of increased violence against minorities in many parts of the world that such a film was made."
Let parents decide
Another University of Michigan professor, Rowell Huesmann, who has also studied the impact of violence on children said, however, that he would leave the decision to parents. But he advised them to make informed decisions based on knowledge about the impact of violence on children.
"We know that movies are powerful influences on children, and the younger they are, they more powerful the influence," he said. "Parents should keep this in mind when taking children to see any movie. Parents shouldn't believe that children watch movies as momentary entertainment. Movies have lasting effects on children. Movies can influence their behavior and attitudes."
Huesmann was a leading researcher on a study released in March 2003 that showed the more violence children watched between the ages of 6 and 10, the more aggressive their behavior was in their early 20s.
Faith Lutheran Church in Troy is one of several churches participating in special screenings of the movie next week.
Cynthia Brown, children's ministries director at the church, said children viewed a trailer of the movie during a recent Sunday worship service.
"I am advising parents to see the movie themselves first and then to make a judgment based on knowing how sensitive their children are," said Brown, whose own children are adults. "I'd be sensitive to not doing more harm to children than the good the movie is intended to bring out."
She said she didn't have a problem with children viewing a short promotional clip during Sunday services because she watched it first, and the scenes in it were not overly gruesome.
"I wanted to be a part of encouraging the congregation to see the movie," she said. "I think it will help people connect with who Jesus is and the sacrifices he made for them. The visual is more powerful than the spoken word."
Brown said that based on what she's seen and heard about the movie, she does not think it is anti-Semitic.
"I'm opposed to any prejudice," she said. "That's not what Jesus taught. "
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