Cinema and films have been an agent for artistic expression developed diligently throughout the years. They are an extension of society where the needs to create and communicate manifest themselves in hour-long productions. However, a troubling agenda transpires when films intentionally misrepresent reality in order to spread a specific narrative. Such is the dilemma we find in the newly released faith-based movie ‘I’m Not Ashamed’ produced by Pure Flix Entertainment.
‘I’m Not Ashamed’ tells the story of a young Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim shot during the Columbine High School Massacre when two students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold aimed fire at classmates and teachers killing 15 people on April 20, 1999. The tragedy shook the United States as a nation.
It was an event of intense emotions and multiple layers of storytelling. Scott’s journey with faith and Christian theology serves as the focal point of the film and the apparent cause of her death. Character, scene and content analysis will be used to reveal unethical manipulation of information and exploitation of a real-life event to push forth religious propagandist intentions skillfully targeted towards a younger audience.
Since its launch in 2003, PureFlix Entertainment has dedicated over 30 television and film productions to the promotion and advancement of Christian theology. The films cover a range of genres, including romantic comedy, action, teen drama and cartoon animation. Their most notable work was God’s not dead (2015) where the plot centers around the theme of the persecution of Christians in modern society. The persecution of Christians is a recurring theme in many faith-based films and is also present in I’m Not Ashamed.
I’m Not Ashamed is a biographical movie based on the journals of young Rachel Joy Scott. Scott, played by actress Masey McLain, is a typical, shy teenager attempting to understand and derive meaning from the world around her. Her interest in a boy led her to willfully sneak out of her home late one night and ultimately indulge in a sip of beer. After she gets caught attempting to sneak back into her room, her religious mother Beth decides to send her away for the summer where she would reside with her cousins in Louisiana. She then encounters a range of emotions and inner turmoil where her cousin Charity sets an example and brings Rachel closer to her faith. Through this Rachel is able to find peace by accepting Jesus and as she would describe ‘having a walk with God’. A neutral warm palette of pastel clothing is used to convey the essence of innocence in Rachel’s approach to life.
“I just want to live my life for Jesus and care about people,” declares Rachel as she returns to school after summer break. She meets Alex, a charming boy from drama class, and explores the potential of young love and romance. Unfortunately, the relationship is short-lived. Rachel faces conflicting interests when a typical student life that would include parties and possible mischievous behavior clashes with her faith. Even though practicing Christian faith isn’t considered cool or trendy by other students, Rachel decides to make it her mission to spread the word of Jesus among her peers and community. By this, she befriends a homeless boy called Nathan and encourages him to reform with a stronger and deeper faith.
Through the highs and lows of the film, a striking scene is reflected when Rachel gives a speech in front of her classmates urging them to ignite a chain reaction of good deeds and compassion and later introduces herself as a Christian by saying, “Jesus gave His life for me, and I will give my life to Him.”
Amid a familiar high school setting, incidents of bullying are portrayed as a cruel reality in Columbine High School. The White Jocks were a group popular student-athletes who would pick on and torment weaker groups, most notably the goth schoolmates like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. The duo were depicted as loners, with Eric in specific making remarks during lunch break of wishing to exterminate the entire population and just leave a chosen few. Rachel continues her journey of expanding the word of god, even when treated unjustly. Her wholesome image makes a stark contrast with the characters of the perpetrators of the shootings, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold who are shown as Hitler and Darwin enthusiasts.
The final scene of the film shows Rachel and a friend sitting on a lawn outside the school discussing overcoming hardships through Christianity when Eric and Dylan approach holding weapons and aiming fire at them. Both Rachel and her friend are injured but do not die instantly. Eric leans towards Rachel and asks, “Well Rachel, where is your god now?”. Dylan also mocks her asking her what Jesus would have done. Eric then grabs Rachel by her head and asks if she still believes in god to which she responds,“You know I do.” After which Eric says, “Then go be with him” and shoots Rachel dead.
Scene, Characters & Themes
I’m Not Ashamed is presented as a film ‘based inspiring and powerful true story .’ However, the last scene has sparked a major backlash regarding what really happened during the first moments of the attack. Detailed police reports surfaced to suggest that the last conversation between Eric and Rachel never happened as she was shot dead 10 feet away meaning the entire premise on which the film was built is a false accusation.
With over 13 homicide, 2 suicide deaths and 24 injured, the Columbine High School massacre remains one of the worst school shootings to date. It is an issue that must be approached with extreme awareness and sensitivity to all subjects who have been affected including Eric Harris and Dylan Kebold and their respective families.
The manner in which Eric and Dylan were depicted in the film was filtered and superficialized as to fit into the stereotypical role of a villain in an almost comical way. The intention behind this portrayal leaves no room for emotional depth or understanding. Eric and Dylan are played out as one-dimensional characters paving the way to demonize and establish them as cold-hearted killers. The polarization of characters allowed for the image of Rachel Joy Scott to be painted in an almost prophetic light even predicting her own death. While Rachel’s character is portrayed as innocent and compassionate, Eric and Dylan are shown in an evil, dehumanized and dark manner.
At only 18 years old, Eric and Dylan were teenagers dealing a lot of agonizing hardships inflicted by constant bullying. Official reports suggested that both Eric and Dylan suffered from serious psychological problems. From this standpoint, PureFlix Entertainment fails to demonstrate an objective reasoning and ethical ground by choosing to selectively exclude important factors contributing to the Columbine Massacre.
“Though many secular observers have been taken by surprise by the religious right in the past decade, it is the visibility of conservative Christians that is new, not their activity and organization. This new visibility has been aided by an extraordinarily sophisticated network of electronic resources. As a result, the influence of the religious right might be described in paradoxical terms as a reaction against postmodernity.” (Lesage and Klintz , 1998)
The rise of secular thinking and implementation of its practical application such as separation of church and state won’t be reciprocated warmly by religious groups. One way of preventing the expansion of secularism is through reinforcing Christian faith and theology through cinema targeted towards the youth.
‘I’m Not Ashamed’ is successful in doing that by covering 3 main areas:
Relatability & Emotional Manipulation
By establishing a cast of youthful attractive actors in a familiar setting such as a high school, the production succeeds at creating a relatable atmosphere for younger audiences. This is a common tactic used by politicians to get closer to the general public. “I’m not Ashamed” is targeted towards a young demographic, teenagers who are still in their developmental phase and formative years, where painting such a vilified image of people who don’t necessarily adhere to the Christian faith may prove to be impactful likewise harmful by increasing intolerance.
Christians as Minority
Many faith-based films depict Christians as a minority group where the surrounding environment is hostile. This representation is unethical as it is false. According to 2015 study completed by Pew Research Christians remain the largest religious group in the world. Furthermore, a 2014 study also demonstrated that 70.6% of the American population identified themselves as Christians.
Indeed, establishing Christians as a minority in religious movies is having an impact in real time as recent rallies have erupted urging for the preservation of White Christians.
Manifesting the ‘Other’
Shots of Rachel walking down the high school hallway wearing a widely visible crucifix necklace serve an ingroup message simultaneously reinforcing Christian allegiance and the presence of the ‘other’.
Jean Jacques Rousseau once said, “Domination itself is servile when beholden to opinion: for you depend upon the prejudices of those you govern by means of their prejudices.”
The essence of ‘belonging’ brings with it a sense of connectedness. To identify with a particular group, be it religious or a random sports team instills a sense of security and alliance. Concocting the image of ‘the other’, a foreign entity with different values validates the initial sense of identity. From this point, one may proceed to rise to domination and control through opinions based on prejudices. Rousseau’s quote was mentioned, when describing the unethical tactics used in German cinema to consolidate opinions against the Jewish population, in the book ‘Propaganda and the German Cinema, 1933-1945’. In technical terms, propaganda includes the usage of biased or misleading information to promote a political cause or ideology.
Under this classification, “I’m Not Ashamed” can be categorized under propaganda.The bluntness of the final scene insists that the main reason behind the horrific Columbine High School attacks was due to a particular hatred towards religion in specific Christian theology although the actual motives remains unknown until this day. Some reports claim it was an act of revenge against constant bullying, others refer to Eric and Dylan’s mental health issues as leading factors. Eric and Dylan’s demonized persona in the film isn’t only damaging to their parents and relatives but increases intolerance towards other religious and nonreligious groups like atheists.
I’m Not Ashamed is a film that proposes a youthful image of religious martyrdom. While it does encourage the sharing of compassion and forgiveness however that is only in relation to the Christian god. There is an evident binary depiction and duality of characters. It advocates that the closer one is to the Christian god, the more prosperous he or she is and vice versa, the further one drifts away from the religious spectrum the more you may be associated with a horrific tragedy.
The Columbine High School Massacre was a disturbing event that shook the United States into reevaluating stricter gun policy, protection against bullying and careful consideration of mental health issue. Unfortunately, “I’m Not Ashamed” uses the notoriety of the traumatic incident in an exploitative maneuver to promote Christian theology. It has well been noted the effects media has on the perception of individuals within a collectivist society. In the movie, a meaningful and fulfilling life is only depicted in association with a specific religion successfully excluding and alienating other foreign entities in social structures. Such films promote false subjective narratives in order to gain greater control of public opinion especially when administered during young formative years.
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