Academy Voter Takes Bold Pro-Life Stand

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It’s easy to buy into the stereotype that everyone in Hollywood is hostile to biblical values. And there is no shortage of examples of people who say and do things that reinforce the narrative of Tinseltown being a “godless” or “immoral” place.

Every now and then, however, something challenges that narrative in a way that gives me hope. And I ran across one of those stories last week.

Filmmaker Kieth Merrill won an Oscar for his 1973 documentary The Great American Cowboy. He was nominated again in 1997 for his short feature Amazon. He’s also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—one of a record 9,362 Academy voters deciding this year’s awards (which air on ABC this Sunday night). Back in February, Merrill announced that he would not be watching one film still in consideration for nominations at that point, the pro-abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always, directed by Eliza Hittman. The reason? I’ll let him explain, as he did in an Instagram post on Hittman’s account:

“I received the screener but as a Christian, the father of 8 children and 39 grandchildren. AND pro-life advocate, I have ZERO interest in watching a woman cross state lines so someone can murder her unborn child. 75,000,000 of us recognize abortion for the atrocity it is. There is nothing heroic about a mother working so hard to kill her child. Think about it! With regards, Kieth Merrill.”

Hittman responded by saying, “This email came in last night and was a harsh reminder that the Academy is still so painfully monopolized by an old white puritanical male guard. I wonder how many other voters out there won’t watch the film. #oscarssopuritanical.”

That prompted more thoughts from Merrill: 

“Wow! Ok Eliza, I am ‘old.’ You got that right. I have been a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for 46 years. ‘Puritanical’? I go to church, pray to God and believe in Jesus Christ. I embrace traditional values and believe in moral agency. I try to love my neighbors—hard as that is sometimes. Does that make me ‘puritanical’? Maybe, but if you knew me, you would need to take away the adjectives that give the word the negative connotation you intended. I am not prudish, austere, stuffy, stiff, rigid, narrow-minded, bigoted or fanatical. I am in fact, quite the opposite. … For me, there is nothing entertaining or inspiring about killing unborn babies. I chose not to watch Eliza’s film because it legitimizes abortion. I don’t watch horror films or movies with graphic sex or gratuitous violence or radical social agendas, less Eliza feels singled out. I believe abortion is wrong in all but the most extreme circumstances. Not only wrong, I believe it is an evil, and incomprehensible atrocity.”

Merrill acknowledged Hittman’s right to tell the story she wanted to tell, but also defended his own right not to watch it: “Her film is an expression of who she is. My absence of interest in watching her film is an expression of who I am. We are equally valid in our choices, what we do, and how we choose to live our lives.”

There’s lots to unpack here, not the least of which is Merrill’s boldness on the hot-button issues of faith, abortion and the connection between them. We live in a world in which many people downplay their beliefs in order not to offend, but there’s none of that here. Merrill fearlessly calls out abortion for the evil that it is, and he proclaims his faith with equal fearlessness.

Merrill’s example reminds me that even in a place we might characterize as being “godless,” God has passionate followers who are willing to stand bravely for the truth.

But Merrill goes further. He also reminds us to consider the connection between what we believe and what entertainment we choose. In this case, the veteran moviemaker identifies several kinds of stories that he chooses to avoid because of how his faith shapes his worldview—a great example of what media discernment looks like in action. 

That’s a very Plugged In message from an Academy insider. Merrill’s words inspire me to pray for those in the entertainment industry whose presence may well be quietly influencing Tinseltown’s products redemptive ways that we may never even know about.

Focus on the Family is deeply invested in equipping and encouraging the pro-life movement. To learn more about how you can get involved, we encourage you to check out our See Life 2021 digital event.

Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.

8 Responses

  1. -Kudos to Merrill for declaring his faith, but his claim that the movie “legitimizes abortion” would have carried more weight if he’d actually watched it first. (I haven’t seen it either, so I won’t weigh in.)

    For an Oscar voter, he sounds awfully close-minded. His criteria for movies he won’t watch encompasses Oscar-worthy classics like Schindler’s List, The Exorcist, Fargo, Alien — even The Passion of the Christ.

    1. -As a Christian myself, I completely agree. I think if you’re in that position, you need to watch the films up for competition. If you can’t handle certain films, or don’t morally feel allowed to do so, maybe another job might be appropriate.
      Then again, as a horror fan myself, I’ve never supported the intense stigma against the genre that nearly every Christian I’ve ever known has harbored. So I guess maybe I’m not Christian enough to criticize anything about the man’s choice of career.
      On another hand, it’s lovely to see someone stand up for their faith, even if I personally don’t go to the particular lengths he does.

    2. -He doesn’t sound close-minded in the least. His statements indicate self-knowledge (an awareness of what he is comfortable with, which is not analogous to what he believes is immoral) rather than close-mindedness.
      Furthermore, is the violence in Schindler’s List, etc. “gratuitous”, as in “done without good reason”?

  2. -Wow, Merrill stated this so well. Thank you for sharing. As Christians, we love life and we love others. We love life from conception to a natural death when God brings us home.

  3. -I think it’s great that he stood for his faith, but we’re also taught to not judge books (or movies) by their cover. You can watch a film critically and scientifically and not support the subject matter.

    It’s great that Merrill has a large family and he supports life, but there are others all over the world that do not. I don’t think movie in question means to glorify abortion or make it an act that women want to purposely do. Yes it’s sad that women may resort to abortion but to then dismiss them as evil and abhorrent is wrong as well.

    Maybe Merril should be making and promoting films that encourage life and family rather than just condemning something that’s a really divisive issue.

  4. -Objectively, Hittman’s reply is without any supporting claim / data and clearly attempts to place herself as the aggrieved party: “…the Academy is still so painfully monopolized by an old white puritanical male guard.”

    One of over 9,000 voters does not constitute a majority nor does a hashtag equate to validity. To engage in this sort of baseless exchange only validates her claim. Truth must be at the start or it just decays immediately into a shouting match. Then again, perhaps that isn’t all that objectionable to Hittman.

  5. -Merrill is not a Christian. He’s Mormon. Focus on the Family, please do your homework. Yes, Mormons are prolife and pro family. But that does not change that they are decidedly NOT Christian.

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