Friday, September 18, 2020

'Infidel': Prisoner, Believer, Fighter

It is increasingly difficult these days for conservatives to enjoy anything from mainstream Hollywood, which has made its contempt for all those white supremacist Trump supporters in the flyover states very clear. Conservative viewers have had enough of movies and TV series that denigrate, ridicule, and demonize their faith and values. They’re done with being bludgeoned by social justice messaging from hypocritical, elitist actors and filmmakers. They’ve cancelled their cable TV and their Netflix subscriptions over increasingly vile, nihilistic content. The only entertainment refuge those viewers are left with, however, is bland “faith-based” programming aimed squarely at conservatives, that too often suffers from low budgets, amateurish quality, and heavy-handed messaging of its own.

So when a movie comes along that merges the best of both mainstream and faith-based filmmaking (but doesn’t fit neatly into either category), that unites strong storytelling and a respect for conservative belief and values, and that doesn’t sucker-punch us with a message of moral equivalence, we need to throw our support behind it and spread the word. Infidel, which opens nationwide today, September 18, is one of those rarities.

Executive produced by Dinesh D’Souza’s media company, and written and directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh, whose 2006 ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11 sparked front-page controversy and sent Bill Clinton and his former administration cronies into paroxysms of anger, the R-rated Infidel is a Middle East thriller starring Jim Caviezel as an American prisoner of the Iranian regime, falsely accused of spying for the CIA. His only way out is to sign a confession – and publicly renounce his faith and convert to Islam.

Jim Caviezel (best-known, of course, from Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ) plays Doug Rawlins, a prominent Christian blogger who accepts an invitation to a televised speaking engagement in Cairo. His wife Liz (played by Australian actress Claudia Karvan), a State Department official, tries unsuccessfully to dissuade him – she is concerned that he won’t be able to resist proselytizing in the Muslim country and sparking controversy. And indeed, although Rawlins does his best to find common interfaith ground with the congenial Muslim host of a TV talk show, he finds himself compelled to testify a truth of his faith that directly contradicts Islam, as shocking as that is to the show’s studio audience and viewers. A clip from the show swiftly goes viral on the internet and Rawlins finds himself at the center of a budding international incident. He is subsequently kidnapped, brutalized in a secret location, and accused of spying by agents of the Iranian regime who, unlike too many in the West, are perfectly comfortable acknowledging that we are in a Clash of Civilizations. “We’re going to win,” his Muslim captor promises him, “because we’re not afraid to die.”

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Critics Rush to Defend Netflix's Pre-Teen Twerking Flick ‘Cuties’

The brilliant satirical website Babylon Bee recently posted another gem of a faux headline:  Awesome: Netflix Will Now Just Pump Septic Waste Straight Into Your Living Room,” poking fun at the streaming entertainment service’s reputation for pushing increasingly controversial and offensive content. But Netflix’s latest offering is no joke: a French flick that veers dangerously close to outright child pornography.

Cuties (originally titled Mignonnes), which debuted Thursday on Netflix, is the story of Amy, 11, a Senegalese girl growing up in Paris who rebels against her conservative Muslim immigrant family and seeks the approval of a bullying quartet of fellow 11-year-old girls who are absolutely clueless about sex but who nevertheless believe dressing and acting like prostitutes is the key to popularity (the ages of the actresses at the time of filming are unclear, but reportedly range from 11-14). Their aimless lives center on rehearsing sexed-up choreography to a rap song for a local dance contest.

As Amy becomes desperate to escape the stultifying, traditional expectations of the women in her family, she exhibits increasingly wanton behavior, such as posting a pic of her genitalia on social media and teaching the other girls how to rev up their dance routine by twerking (if you are mercifully ignorant about twerking, it’s a very popular move derived from strip-club lap dancing, in which females squat and shake their rear ends up and down like primates presenting themselves for mating; needless to say, this is wildly inappropriate for pre-teens). The movie climaxes, so to speak, in an extended, raunchy dance performance in which the camera lingers disturbingly on the scantily-clad little girls’ pelvic gyrations, come-hither looks, and suggestive touching – of themselves and each other.


During the performance, Amy is horrified onstage by the sudden revelation of what she has become, and she turns her back on both that path and her family's traditions, to find liberation in her own identity. But the transcendent ending feels utterly tacked-on, and it is too little, too late to rescue the film from the sense that we have been trapped in a pedophile’s dream.


Cuties has lit such a firestorm of controversy and anti-Netflix backlash that the hashtag #CancelNetflix has been trending on Twitter as people cancelled their subscriptions en masse in protest. Politicians have even weighed in. Sen. Josh Hawley called out Netflix on Twitter, with a screenshot highlighting posts to the parental guidance page of the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), where warnings about nudity and sexual scenes are shown. Those warnings (see below) have since mysteriously disappeared from IMDb.

Sen. Ted Cruz has written to Attorney General William Barr requesting an investigation into whether the production or distribution of the film has broken any laws against child pornography.

Netflix did concede that its marketing for the film – a movie poster depicting the little girls posing provocatively like strippers – was, to put it mildly, a mistake, and it apologized in the wake of an earlier tsunami of justifiable public outrage. But Netflix stands by the film itself. “Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” a spokesperson said in its defense. “It’s an award-winning film and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up — and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.”

Oh, so it’s social commentary! It’s art! And it’s award-winning! That’s okay, then. Carry on.