It’s often said that all publicity is good publicity.
Unplanned seems to be proving that axiom this week.
Controversy began to swirl before the film was even released. This dramatization of former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson’s decision to leave her clinic received an R rating, prompting many to wonder if the film had been the victim of a politicized rating before it even hit theaters.
Since then, the film’s marketers have fought an uphill battle, with nearly every traditional marketing outlet denied to them. As widely reported, Twitter briefly suspended the film’s account this weekend before reinstating it amid a flurry of protest. Cable networks Lifetime, the Hallmark Channel and HGTV rejected advertising for the film. Samantha Bee got on the bandwagon, calling Johnson’s insider story “mostly made up.” And many mainstream movie reviewers have derided Unplanned as propaganda.
And what happened? The film shocked Hollywood by doubling estimates for its debut weekend box-office total.
Unplanned is not an easy film to watch. But it is an important one, because it pulls back the veil on a conversation about abortion that’s often cloaked in sanitized language. It is impossible to unsee that reality once you’ve witnessed it onscreen, an observation Abby Johnson herself has made. Talking with Fox News, she said of the life-changing moment she watched an abortion on an ultrasound screen: “In mere seconds, that fetus’ life ended and the [ultrasound] screen only showed a black, empty uterus. The life that was there just a couple minutes ago was gone. In that moment, I saw for myself what I was supporting for the last eight years and it broke me.”
She goes on to say of the film’s depiction of that crucial scene:
You won’t be able to unsee what I saw if you go see the movie, which I implore you to do. But you also won’t be able to say you didn’t know what abortion is or what happens when a woman walks into Planned Parenthood. If you are pro-life or pro-choice, you will know exactly what you are supporting.
I believe Abby’s observation is right on. And others are concurring that this movie might indeed have the ability to influence some who see it to change their minds, just as happened with Johnson herself. In her National Review article “Unplanned Will Change Minds,” Julie Gunlock writes,
While this movie is sure to rile Planned Parenthood supporters, abortion activists are mostly worried about one small but critical part of the movie — the scene where Johnson and the audience view a sonogram of a baby being aborted. It’s a deeply unsettling scene that will collapse the modern narrative that aborted babies are just fetuses unable to feel pain. It might make people reevaluate their position on abortion. It could even change minds.
In a surprisingly candid review of the film published in the Central Florida Post, writer Bridgette Bayley—who says of herself, “I have always been Pro-Choice”—admitted that the film’s unflinching depiction of abortion did indeed cause her to rethink her convictions:
By the end of the film, I was completely distraught, questioning everything I had ever believed about what abortion really was. I was hungry for more information, I went to Google, I talked with friends and I prayed. This is not my story of how a movie made me change my political affiliation and I still have many more questions about the validity of what I saw but I went into that theater, thinking there was NOTHING that could go onto that screen that would make me question myself and I was wrong. What I saw DID make me question myself and my beliefs and I believe that EVERYONE should go and test themselves as I did.
I agree. More than any film I’ve seen in a long time, I sincerely believe that Unplanned has the potential to move the needle on a fractious, entrenched cultural debate. Because of its “surprise” success last weekend, the film is in 700 more theaters this weekend. If you have the time and the wherewithal, and if you’re willing to look at the tragic reality of what abortion truly is, I’d encourage you to prayerfully consider seeing the film this weekend.
Some of films are good. Some are excellent and memorable. Some become classics in time. But Unplanned is one of a rare few that is truly important, because it offers an opportunity we rarely see to genuinely influence the cultural debate in one of the defining moral issues of our time.
To learn more about Focus on the Family’s efforts on behalf of the preborn, including our “Declaration for Life” and upcoming Alive From New York event, check out our pro-life articles and resources page.