DALLAS – AMC Theatres is refusing to accept a 30-second ad produced by the Baptist General Convention of Texas and timed to coincide with the Ash Wednesday opening of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”
Like many evangelical Christian groups throughout the nation, the 2 million-member Baptist convention hopes to take advantage of the publicity generated by Gibson’s R-rated epic about the last hours of Jesus.
Rick King, spokesman for AMC Entertainment Inc., based in Kansas City, Mo., said he couldn’t address the specific situation.
In general, King said, “Screen advertising is a pretty sensitive area and we have a pretty tight set of guidelines for what we will place on our screens and what we won’t.”
Regal Entertainment Group of Knoxville, Tenn., whose holdings include United Artist theaters, has accepted the ad.
“The advertisement meets all of our standards and guidelines,” Regal spokeswoman Lauren Leff said. “There’s no reason why we wouldn’t run it.”
Becky Bridges, communications director for the association of 5,700 Texas Baptist churches, said the black-and-white ad is designed to “spark some interest and questions on the part of younger viewers about the story of Christianity.”
The ad opens with a young man asking: “You want to see the most scandalous story ever?”
Words then flash on and off the screen: “Betrayal. Sin. Adultery. Greed. Envy. Weakness. Poverty. Torture. Murder.”
“Redemption,” the actor says.
The ad ends with the message “Now playing at a Baptist church near you” above a Baptist General Convention of Texas logo.
AMC has been “very vague about why” it declined the ad, Bridges said, with company officials describing it variously as “too dark” and “too Christian.”
“We followed all their regulations: not using Jesus, Bible or any other overt God talk,” she said. “We do not use religious symbols or icons. We do not attempt to use guilt or other things that might appear to be judgmental or proselytizing.
“In my opinion, it is a good teaser which is edgy enough that audiences will find it intriguing, but not offensive,” she added, noting that the ad’s art director was Catholic and the director Jewish.
Texas Baptists plan to run the ad on about 200 Regal theater screens in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, Bridges said. At a cost of about $40,000, the ad will run for four weeks starting the Friday before the Feb. 25 opening of Gibson’s movie.
The convention also had hoped to show the ad on about 150 AMC screens in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Bridges said the convention approached theater chains that it knows accept regional advertising and don’t require a national contract.
King said ads accepted by AMC must be appropriate for all audiences – those coming to see a children’s film such as “Finding Nemo” as well as someone expecting the graphic nature of a drama such as “The Passion of the Christ.”
“In general terms, we don’t allow any kind of negativity,” King said. “We do run ads for a number of churches and organizations, but this particular one would need some modifications to meet our guidelines.”
Bridges said the Baptist convention offered to soften its ad, including taking out references to “murder” and “torture,” but that did not appease AMC, she said.
Gibson’s movie, with dialogue in Latin and Aramaic and English subtitles, is set to open on 2,000 screens nationwide – an unusually large release for an independent religious film made in dead languages.
Some critics of “The Passion of the Christ” worry that its depiction of the role of Jewish leaders in Jesus’ final hours will revive the idea that all Jews are to blame for his death.
Gibson has repeatedly denied that his film maligns Jews. It has won praise from many prominent Christians including evangelist Billy Graham. An aide to Pope John Paul II has said the pontiff felt the film accurately shows what Jesus went through, although the Vatican recently backed away from that statement, declaring that the pontiff “does not make public judgments on artistic works.”