This article originally appeared in
May 16, 2006
'Da Vinci' protests, boycotts spread
By ERIC J. LYMAN
VATICAN CITY -- As the clock ticks toward the highly anticipated Friday
release of Sony Pictures' "The Da Vinci Code," a worldwide furor is gaining
steam with calls for boycotts and bans of the film, though some say such
strategies are likely to backfire.
The Holy See was among the earliest and loudest critics of the film. Pope
John Paul II in January 2005 appointed a special committee to rebut the
story based on Dan Brown's international best-selling novel, and so far this
year one leading church figure has called for a boycott of the film and
another has hinted at possible legal action.
Meanwhile, controversy is raging worldwide. Legislators in the Philippines
have petitioned for the film to be banned from that country; hundreds of
protesters took to the streets in India to call for similar steps on the
subcontinent; Christian orthodox leaders in Greece, Romania and Russia
blasted the film from the pulpit; and religious officials in the U.S. announced
a wide-reaching interfaith coalition that will call for a boycott of the film just
two days before its Friday release.
"We are committed to exposing the movie's offensive and misleading
content and are calling for a boycott," said Don Feder, president of a group
called Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation, part of the U.S.-based
interfaith coalition. "This film is a clear attack on all religions."
At the Vatican, language from some church leaders has been equally strong.
Last month, powerful Archbishop Angelo Amato, the second-ranking official
in the Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, said that Catholics
should "should boycott 'The Da Vinci Code' and speak out against it and
reject its lies against the church." Soon after, highly visible Nigerian Cardinal
Francis Arinze said Christians should consider "legal means" against the
film and the book, though he did not elaborate.
Opus Dei, portrayed in the story as the secretive sect that directed a bloody
conspiracy to hide Jesus' bloodline, this month demanded that the film carry
a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction. The church has even produced a
rebuttal film titled "The Da Vinci Code — A Masterful Deception." Churches
and religious groups will show the documentary beginning this month.
The story "Da Vinci" is based on speculates that the church has for centuries
concealed the fact that Jesus married former prostitute Mary Magdalene and
that the couple have descendants who live to this day.
"Obviously, the story has touched a nerve among Christians," said the Rev.
Alistair Sear, a church historian and theologian. "There's no doubt that the
story is rife with inaccuracies and misconceptions. The question is: What is
the best way to combat these problems?"
To be sure, many religious leaders have argued for a more tempered
response to the controversy, with some suggesting that the faithful should
use the story as an evangelical tool and others focusing on debunking the
story's historical inaccuracies in articles, on television, in books and during
Those involved with the production scoff at the controversy. Director Ron
Howard and protagonist Tom Hanks have publicly brushed aside criticism,
cautioning critics to remember that the film is fictional.
"I think that people's faith is nothing to take lightly. I have a great deal of
respect for people of faith, all faiths," Howard said in an interview as he
prepared to leave for the Festival de Cannes, where "Da Vinci" will have its
world premiere Wednesday as the opening-night film. "At the same time, it is
a work of fiction. It's not meant to offend, it's not theology. If anyone thinks the
story is going to be upsetting, they shouldn't see it."
Hanks said in an interview with the U.K.'s Evening Standard newspaper, "If
you are going to take any sort of movie at face value, particularly a huge-
budget motion picture like this, you'd be making a very big mistake."
Sony is expecting large crowds in highly Catholic Italy, despite the fact that
much of the controversy started there. The company reportedly has taken the
unusual step of requiring a €5,000 ($6,400) minimum guarantee from Italian
cinemas showing the film — a policy that sparked some complaints but no
A successful run might be more likely thanks to all the controversy, which
many say is likely to draw people to the film rather than keep them away.
"I would speculate that warnings from religious leaders will have an impact
on only the most faithful, and they are the ones least likely to be influenced
by such a film anyway," said Claudio Batestella, an author and marketing
professor at Roma Tre University. "For the average Christian, I think the
temptation may be to go see the film to figure out what is creating all the
Moviegoers near the Vatican seemed to agree with Batestella's assessment.
Student Pier Antonio Rizzo, 22, a movie buff who was waiting to see
"Mission: Impossible III" at the Metropolitan Cinema just across the Tiber
River from St. Peter's Basilica, said "Da Vinci" will become the most popular
film of the year thanks to the controversy.
"Every time someone speaks out against the film, it is like free advertising,"
Rizzo said. "Everyone I know is curious to see it."
Bank worker Antonella Silvestre, 38, who was waiting for the same film,
"I usually don't go to historical films," she said. "But this one is getting so
much attention that now I want to go and see it."