Are we not good enough for Darwin?

Yesterday, I read something in international news that made me so mad I needed to share it with you:

That's right; my home country, the United States, will not distribute this film. There was no problem for the movie Expelled, a poorly argued anti-evolution flop that grossed just $7,598,071 despite appearing on more than 1,000 screens. And this new biopic, Creation, is much more about Darwin's life and personal struggles (which were real, by the way) than it is about evolution.

I have no information about the quality of this movie other than that reviews on the internet tell me it's pretty good. But the story of Darwin's personal life is legitimately incredible. Darwin realized, long before he published his Origins of Species, what the mechanism of Natural Selection meant for the origin of man, including its religious implications. As someone struggling with the death of his favorite child (daughter Annie), a steadfastly religious wife and a slow-witted son, Darwin's internal demons were -- in a way -- just as volatile as the ones he, Hooker and Huxley had to fight for evolution to triumph. And -- perhaps paramount to Darwin's struggles -- what of the ethical dilemma of robbing good people of their faith? The last glimpse of Darwin's life I got to see was through the Off-Broadway play Trumpery, which was both riveting and tear-jerking. (Image below courtesy of the New York Times.)

So with all of this -- plus the amazing story of the acceptance and resistance of evolution -- I want to see this new movie. I want it to do well; I want it to be as good as my hopes for it are. But I'll probably never get the chance in this country. Why?

The film was chosen to open the Toronto Film Festival and has its British premiere on Sunday. It has been sold in almost every territory around the world, from Australia to Scandinavia.

However, US distributors have resolutely passed on a film which will prove hugely divisive in a country where, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 39 per cent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution.

What is wrong with us? Is every major U.S. distributor really afraid to carry this?

I'm hoping that this movie finds a distributor, and that someone steps up to the plate. If they carried the rebellious Fahrenheit 9/11, and they carried the thoroughly misleading Expelled, surely somebody will be brave enough to carry this one? When I first heard this my first reaction was that I should start my own production company and distribute it myself, because this type of information/entertainment should be accessible, here of all places. And yet, I have hopes for this movie.

I hope it's fair, intelligent and compassionate.

I hope it's true and accurate, and I hope it tells a wonderful, riveting dramatic story.

And I hope that reason eventually carries this day, both for this movie and for the larger issue of having an educated public.

I hope...

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Most Americans are familiar with Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, but less well known is his personal struggle with the conflicting ideologies of science and religion. A new film from producer Jeremy Thomas, Creation, aims to tell the story of Darwin's life through the cinematic…
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I feel like a citizen of that small town Billy Mummy isolated from the rest of the world in the "It's a Good Day" episode of the Twilight Zone. We have to smile and agree with the evil child or be subject to its wrath. Can being sent to the cornfield be much worse?

By Queen Freydis (not verified) on 15 Sep 2009 #permalink

It seemed fishy that this would be too controversial to find anyone willing to distribute it. While I figured somebody would eventually pick it up, this quote came off as trying to stir up some controversy to get some more attention.

And in fact it's looking like there will be some US distributor with a bidding war going on.

After months of resistance, the creators of the Charles Darwin bio-pic "Creation" say they're close to getting a distribution deal in the United States.

"There is now a bidding war for the film in the US. A US deal will be in place by the end of the week." a spokesman tells NBC Bay Area.

It speaks volumes to how serious a situation this so called evolution vs creationism 'controversy' has become in America. Only one year ago the most powerful man in the world 'hadn't made up his mind about evolution.' In 2007 three Republican presidential candidates admitted to not believing in evolution period. There was schoolboards attempts to teach intelligent design in science classrooms, and now students can't wear evolution themed t-shirts and production companies wont distribute a film about Charles Darwin. If this continues I fear for the future of education and science in America. I wish I had somethign to contribute but alas, all I can do is vent my frustration.

I suspect that many of the possible distributors were not contacted. It is inconceivable that this is true as there are 330 such possibilities here in the US:…. If, in fact, it is true then we've truly entered a new age of intellectual darkness.
It is interesting to note that Carl Sagan, back in 1996, lamented the dissolution of the Congressional Office Technology and Assessment, not surprisingly at the beginning of Bill Clinton's 2nd term, not necessarily because Bill Clinton was president but because the congress during that time was substantially populated with representatives from the Religious Right. It seems oddly ironic, more a conflict of interests, that the Constitution could allow congress to dissolve one of its own offices - would it allow the dissolution of congress itself?
Anyway, that is a moot concern; what needs to be done now is to reverse this disturbing trend (it is interesting to note that, as Hollywood has produced and is getting ready to release a film on the 2012 myth, we cannot get a film on Darwin released). If this isn't a clarion call for more science teachers, I don't know what is.

The thesis of Expelled was that anti-evolution material is suppressed. Yet, Expelled was widely distributed, but fear of controversy prevents US showings of Creation.

go figure.

Good job, mcmillan. This didn't sound realistic to me either. The flick has a good cast (Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany) and an established(-ish) director (Jon Amiel of "The Core," of all things). It'll get a distributor.

I'm pretty depressed to learn that expelled had a higher gross than the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie :(

As some of the above posters have noted, it seems pretty unlikely that "the United States will not distribute this film" because it is "too controversial" no matter what the producer says. First of all, there is no one entity representing the United states and deciding what films get to be aired (if there was we would have vastly bigger problems than the populace's opinions on evolution). There are numerous movie distributing companies.

Secondly, I don't by "too controversial" as a reason not to distribute a film. Loads of films are controversial--far more controversial than this one. That's actually a selling point (which is why the producer is bringing it up). I rather suspect the real marks against this film are that it is a)a biography of some 18th century scientist and b) distinctly lacking in explosions, romance, pop culture, and the like. I also suspect it will eventually get shown (although perhaps not widely) once the bidding is done.

Its a combination of creationism and capitalism that is the problem here. To be honest I'm not sure that Darwin is such a big draw. He made a huge intellectual achievement with the idea of natural selection as a mechanism of evolution but during the period this movie depicts he mostly stayed at home breeding pigeons and writing letters to fellow biologists. Some things simply work better on the written page rather than on screen. I'm not writing off the possibility that the movie is great, just that its not going to be a box office draw. Expelled is not the best comparison - that movie was produced as a means of preaching to the converted. It was sold as a lossmaker and allowed huge numbers of christians to see it for free.
Give the makers of 'Creation' the same sort of marketing budget and no need for a profit and I'm sure you'd get a lot of viewers, although maybe not as many as Expelled.

It had better get distributed. Watching the bible-thumpers rioting over it would really spice up the nightly news. Maybe MSNBC should consider expanding its business?

Adam: 19th century. The 18th century Darwin was his grandfather, and also movie-worthy.

As for this film lacking in drama or romance, I've seen the trailers for it, and that's definitely not true. A lot of high-grossing dramas didn't have a story as good as this. It can be made to happen!

Why does religion seem to be ruining everything in this world? Its really starting to piss me off.

15. Richard - because they can.

"According to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 39 per cent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution"

39% that is like saying less then half of the people in the US "believe" that gravity holds us to the planet or "believe" in atomic theroy. I mean REALLY

By the backpacker (not verified) on 15 Sep 2009 #permalink

I've just stumbled across this blog.

There is indeed a problem with America at the moment, and such stories, along with the stats (you don't believe in evolution, you should, when you think about it, accept it as fact) on belief in evolution, are to be frank, frightening.

We have mythology and fundamentalism wreaking havoc on the lives of many people across the world. America, the superpower is heading down into an abyss of christian fundamentalism, and abyss just as frightening as elsewhere.

We are heading for a clash, that many of us really don't need or want. To hear of the last President mention proudly that he converses with god, is truly frightening.

I'm really not sure that I would be prepared to visit a fundamentalist country of any faith, including the US.

America has a tendency to export the best and the worst of Americanism. Creationism and christian fundamentalism is now winging over to Europe, slowly being brought into our schools, just as surely as islamic fundamentalism is.

I'm not pissed off. I'm seriously concerned.

After millions of fossils where is there any proof of a connection to humans?

One day Darwin and his ilk will be exposed for the charlatans they are. As a matter of fact they currently are being exposed.

Read pro-Darwin Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything." On almost every other page he shows the egotistical and research failings of scientists, archaeologists, paleontologists, etc.

The ultimate scam exposed in his book is the new diorama, at The Museum of Natural History in New York, of two detailed, hairy humanoids walking in the African veldt based on a set of footprints!

After millions of fossils where is there any proof of a connection to humans?

After millions of fossils where is there any proof of a connection to humans?

This statement is a little like standing in the center of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and pointing at one specific fallen wall, and asking where is there any "proof" that the wall came down due to the wind, and immediately branding as "charlatans" all those who have documented well beyond the shadow of a doubt that the wind does indeed knock heavy things about.

By Antaeus Feldspar (not verified) on 15 Sep 2009 #permalink

Eh..Lion's Gate or Miramax will probably pick it up. It's not as if it's got an unknown cast. I think the story of Darwin is worthy of promoting almost as a olive branch to the fundamentalists (as much as I hate that idea). To see how evidence led him to question his beliefs but NOT change his love for his wife - that's a great story that breaks their stereotypes of secularists.

Why am I getting a cynical "claim no distributors because of controversy, so more people would come to see the movie" vibes?

Antaeus, that was a kinder dismissal than Michael deserved. I would advised him to merely consider completing high school before commenting on a science blog. You are a better man than I.

The above article gets the facts about Darwin wrong.Darwin did not originate the idea of natural selection.In fact,both Darwin and Wallace admitted that they were beaten by Patrick Matthew and Charles Wells to the idea.(Search "wainwrightscience" on Google for more details) I don't suppose the film Creation mentions this simple, undeniable fact.
Prof Milton Wainwright,Sheffield University,UK.

By Prof Milton Wa… (not verified) on 15 Sep 2009 #permalink

What's really peculiar about this is that another of Paul Bettany's upcoming films should prove just as rancorous to the religious right. The film is called Legion (trailer here).

In the film Paul Bettany plays the archangel Michael, who comes down from earth to stop God from wiping out humanity. God is (presumably) the villain in this movie. But there's explosions. And guns. Lots of guns.

So it gets a pass and Creation doesn't?

By Stellar Moose (not verified) on 15 Sep 2009 #permalink

The US is getting sicker by the minute.

Being afraid of the 39% creatards, the distributors opt to ignore the other 61% of the population. That doesn't sound like a sensible business decision; I say the distirbution houses are packed with creatards.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 16 Sep 2009 #permalink

Movie distribution is big business; marketing can be more expensive than the actual making of the film. A distributor who invests heavily in this needs to be able to show the movie, and if every red state cinema owner waves them off as "not interested" they can't get the screens they need to make back their budget. One thing you can usually rely on in the US, if it makes money, it will be shown. See the Jesus chain saw massacre as a prime example (if from the other side of the religious divide).

at least you are good enough for Dawkins.. In Turkey, his site is banned. Of course we can see the site with some tricks but no way for regullar connections..

Being afraid of the 39% creatards, the distributors opt to ignore the other 61% of the population. That doesn't sound like a sensible business decision; I say the distirbution houses are packed with creatards.

Good article (on a great site BTW, Ethan thanks for talking science to those of us that have the desire to understand it in layman's terms!) that raises the question of how did we get to this point? I think the movie will live or die on its own merits, regardless of the subject. I wonder if the real problem is that most people now are tainted by the view of Charles Darwin that was argued (unsuccessfully) during the "Scopes Monkey Trial" (State v. Scopes, Scopes v. State, 152 Tenn. 424, 278 S.W. 57 (Tenn. 1926) and not his actual work. I believe Darwin's theory is correct and his observations support it. Unfortunately, most people assume "we descended from apes" is the point of his work. I haven't read all of Darwin, but enough to feel comfortable in saying that that was not the crux of his thesis. The only way that this will change is to improve our school science curricula, quit electing people to school boards based on their narrow minded and often incorrect assumptions, and promote teachers who teach how to gain knowledge not just answers for standardized tests. Personally I have no problem with the Bible being taught in schools. Just not in science class, teach it in humanity along with other world religions. Teach science in science classes. Teach students the scientific method, and let them draw their own conclusions.

Americans are just not evolved enough! Any country that allows Limbaughs, Colters, Palins and the entire FOX news staff to exist is definitely lacking the ability to think! Hell, even walk upright!

By J TODD DESHONG (not verified) on 16 Sep 2009 #permalink

Professor Milton Wainwright who wants people to Google "Wainwrightscience" in order to see a refutation of the claim made in the article that Darwin originated before any other individual the idea of natural selection --

-- where, exactly, are you finding any such claim in the article? I see no such claim being made explicitly in the article. Nor is it implicit; even if Matthew, Wells, Prichard, Lawrence, and Blyth all beat Darwin to the first step, it is clear that it was Darwin and not any of those others who went the distance.

By Antaeus Feldspar (not verified) on 17 Sep 2009 #permalink

I'm sorry, but this is just a knee-jerk reaction from either the producer who doesn't know how to market anything, or the UK media taking any chance it can get to bash Americans. We don't have trouble finding distributors for movies about 11 year-olds getting raped, or any Michael Moore movie, which is far more divisive than anything about evolution. Therefore, this is just another example of correlation=/=causation. Yes, only 39% of Americans believe in evolution. What does that have to do with the drivel the movie industry produces on a daily basis? Absolutely nothing!

People go to theaters to be entertained. If the movie is not entertaining, it will not be shown. In the South Park movie, Saddam Hussein raped Satan, and Mormons were described as the only "correct" religion. By the article's rationale, this movie was never distributed either, because 95% of Americans don't believe in Mormonism - right?

For the love of God, what a stupid article! I would be mad too, that anybody would actually believe that Americans would buy this as the reason a movie isn't being distributed. Apparently, though, they are right!

Though this concept may or may not find controversy with some audiences, the film maker is being a bit egotistical here, MANY films don't find US distributors, year after year after year. Often times it's because of the ol' mighty dollar and the lack of belief the film will have commercial appeal. Small indy type productions have faced this forever, and on non-controversial issues, just that companies only want to make money, not make a political point and lose money.

The movie industry resembles Han Solo before his redemption, "Look, I ain't in this for your revolution, and I'm not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I'm in it for the money." As was pointed out in this article, that abysmal Expelled grossed just $7,598,071 after being in a thousand theaters, despite a moderately healthy ad budget. Somehow, distributors were talked into this, either because of the performance of Gibson's Passion or arm-twisting by the right. Only it didn't work out. Wow, less than eight grand a theater? That is a financial catastrophe, even the crappiest slasher flick will do better than that, even the loopiest art flick running in only a dozen theaters in LA and New York earns more than that. Do any of you honestly believe any American distributor is gonna touch a movie about evolution, especially one named Creation, after this last disaster?

This story is rubbish! I can get Darwin on the History channel for the fee of me cable bill. why pay $10.00

Actully, most of our distributor's are ball-less little no talent fools, who are losing a lot of money right now. Most of our MSM is hemoraging money, largely do to producing and distributing crap, while the "suits" continue to pay themselves bonus's for non-performance for the stockholders?

The nature of this one is that the limited number of distributors, with a virtual "trust" over American theatrical release. They actively collude in distribution agreements, are generally timid little dufus' with no talent, and the industry has no effective competition, due to our lack of anti-trust enforcement. Like our banks, our media giants, too, are too big to fail, but failing commercially, financially, and intellectually, they certainly are?

This will probably get viral distribution, do well, and as the dinosaurs of MSM, wallow about in the dust of the meteoric impact of change, the rodents will scurry about cleaning the carcasses.