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Reel World 

Wednesday, Apr 21 1999
Thy Kingdom Come ... Thy Will Be Done
"I write you today," Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association begins, "because a pro-homosexuality bombshell has been fired into our children's elementary schools."

D. James Kennedy, Ph.D., the front man of the Coral Ridge Ministries, warns, "I can assure you, if God's people do not speak out and take action on a united front, it will be on national TV and in our homes -- soon."

What's the rumpus? It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School, Debra Chasnoff's innocuous 1996 documentary that presented grammar-school students and teachers discussing gays and lesbians as if they were human beings like anyone else. Scheduled to air in June on PBS affiliates around the country, It's Elementary has provoked the most heat for a public-television broadcast since Marlon Riggs' Tongues Untied ignited a firestorm a decade ago.

"I'd be surprised if people weren't opposed," Chasnoff says. "The film is advocating that all of us do what's been taboo in this country for generations, and that is talk to kids about lesbians and gay men when they're at the age that they're forming their values and attitudes."

An activist as much as a filmmaker, Chasnoff roused the complacent back in 1991 with Deadly Deception, her short Oscar-winning expose of GE's involvement in the nuclear-weapons business. She and co-producer Helen Cohen also had the silent majority in mind with It's Elementary. "We decided our audience was parents and educators who don't want their kids growing up mean-spirited or bigoted, but who hadn't figured out how to have that conversation with their children," Chasnoff explains.

KQED, which hasn't produced a documentary with teeth for years, was happy to assume the mantle of presenting station in exchange for a hefty fee. Although the final tally isn't in, stations in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Arkansas, and other states have already declined to air the film. These are dismal days for public television, but we'll know in a few weeks just how dismal.

When Chasnoff and Cohen started out, they briefly considered ways to soften potential opposition. "But no matter what we did," Chasnoff says, "the religious right would hate us and we wouldn't open any hearts or minds [anyway]." In recent weeks, Wildmon's and Kennedy's organizations have distributed their own inflammatory videos using out-of-context excerpts from It's Elementary. "I wish Marlon was alive to have a cup of coffee with and to hold my hand," Chasnoff says. "It's not easy going through this."

The Nightmare Before Christmas was unflaggingly inspired and James and the Giant Peach had its moments, so we've never understood why genius Henry Selick has such a hard time getting studio backing. The reigning duke of stop-motion animation is finally gearing up to start Monkey Bone, a mutant comic blend of animation and live action written by local Batscripter Sam Hamm. The S.F. shoot is backed by the Fox Animation Studio; the bad news is it's produced by Chris Columbus' company and stars Brendan Fraser, Chris Kattan, and Whoopi Goldberg.

By Michael Fox

About The Author

Michael Fox


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