Is it fair to condemn an actor for taking on a paid role in a Christian propaganda film if he doesn’t espouse those beliefs himself?
In 2015, when evangelist Ray Comfort made an anti-LGBTQ film, he said he wanted to cast real actors instead of “Christian” actors because he didn’t want a crappy final product. It turned out the real actors he hired were actively supportive of LGBTQ rights.
When I spoke with the film’s lead, he told me he wasn’t shown the script in advance but he also didn’t want to say no to a lead role in a film. He also figured he was playing a character. This was his job, he said, so it didn’t matter that he personally didn’t agree with the film’s premise.
I thought about that when reading this extraordinary interview by Marlow Stern of The Daily Beast with actor Jamie Kennedy, who appears in the right-wing anti-abortion propaganda film Roe v. Wade. Kennedy has appeared in Scream and hosted a TV prank show with his name in the title — you either love him or pay no attention to his work. Stern’s basic line of questioning is why Kennedy, who’s not a conservative zealot, would appear in a movie that spreads so many right-wing lies.
Kennedy offers the same reasoning as that other actor: This was a paying role that he was directly offered; he wasn’t about to say no. But it’s also clear that he had no idea what he was stepping into. He didn’t research the script, or the film’s production team, or his fellow actors, or the issue at the heart of the movie, or the role his own character supposedly played in real life. He doesn’t know how the anti-abortion crowd routinely spreads lies about Planned Parenthood and the procedure itself to instill fear in gullible conservatives — mostly Christian — who then elect politicians who use those beliefs to enact policies that hurt women.
Here’s what really troubling: He doesn’t seem to care. He just plays dumb during the whole interview, even when confronted with evidence of the film’s lies, and then hides behind the excuse of wanting to be part of a project that leads to more conversation… as if controversy itself is valuable because people will talk about the issue, as if a woman’s right to control her body should be up for debate. He never flat-out admits he was duped into lending credibility to a position that’s indefensible.
Just look at some excerpts from Kennedy’s responses:
… I knew it was going to be a hot-button issue going in, but I saw what they were quoting from, and I was like, “That’s interesting. I didn’t know that.” They said everything in this movie was taken from books. Whether they took some liberties, I don’t know. I didn’t fact-check everything.
Yeah, I’ll have to look at the facts again. Like I said, I’m just an actor. You do hear one thing in the media, and then you hear another thing when we’re on set…
That’s not fair to me, but it’s also not fair for people to think that because I’m in a project with them that I’m like that, or that I believe in this stuff. That’s not fair.
[Question: Do you stand by the final product?]
I have to watch it again. I haven’t seen it in a long time. I like my performance in it. I have to see if there are real facts in it.
I’m not expecting actors to fact-check scripts and I don’t think they should be held responsible for other people’s opinions. It’s also very easy for someone like me (who’s not an actor) to condemn an actor for taking a paying job.
But now that he’s completed his obligations, Kennedy could at the very least use his platform to denounce the film’s premise and openly support women’s rights. Instead of hiding behind his own ignorance, he ought to learn more about this mess he deliberately chose to participate in so that he can be a voice of reason against the lies.
Saying you didn’t do the research might work the first time you learn about it. It shouldn’t work after that.
Kennedy says at the end of the interview, “At the end of the day, I gotta see what the message is, because I hear one thing from those people, and I hear one thing from The Daily Beast side, and I gotta make my own assessments.”
He should get cracking on that quickly instead of putting forth some “both sides” argument on bodily autonomy. The film was released on Amazon on Friday and there’s a short window when it’ll be relevant. If Kennedy doesn’t want to spend the rest of his career being known as the guy who participated in a right-wing propaganda film meant to force women to give birth against their will, he should start acting like he cares.
(Screenshot via YouTube)