Unplanned’s Canadian Release Charts a Course through the Culture War

From alleged social-media censorship, to a “propaganda” label from Google, to an inexplicable R-rating, to a blackout by U.S. television advertisers, Unplanned — which tells the story of Abby Johnson, a Planned Parenthood clinic director turned pro-life activist — has had its share of obstacles in trying to reach the public with its pro-life message. None of these was bigger than the refusal of Cineplex, which controls roughly 80 percent of all movie-theater screens in Canada, to carry the film. Chuck Konzelman, the film’s director, called the move at the time “de facto censorship.” He also said that “the two largest distributors in Canada cited ‘content’ as the issue, ‘not lack of consumer demand.’”

The rejection left Unplanned’s creators understandably upset. Given Cineplex’s near-monopoly on the Canadian market — and the fact that its next-largest competitor, Landmark, turned down the film as well — the movie had effectively been denied any means for public distribution in Canada.

In a time when many conservatives and Christians see the culture war as a long and losing battle — mild-mannered baker Jack Phillips, for example, is currently facing a third legal attack targeted at him — there is a good bit of anger directed against civil systems, social forces, and powerful private entities (like Cineplex) that sometimes seem stacked against us. A version of this anger has sparked fierce internal debate on the right over whether the time has come to abandon civility and republican procedure and fight the culture war as just that — a war.

The makers of Unplanned, thankfully, didn’t stumble down that road. Instead, they set to work organizing their supporters and putting reasonable pressure on their opponents. They set up an online petition that has received well over 200,000 votes and counting. They called for a boycott and accompanying letter-writing campaign to voice displeasure with Cineplex’s decision. And, in possibly the most public demonstration of their commitment, they put on a single showing of Unplanned in the Edmonton Expo Center, attended by roughly 3,000 supporters.

After just a few weeks of these efforts, the producers announced on June 11 that an independent distributor, Cinedicom, would be bringing the movie to Canada this summer, beginning July 12. Overall, the producers expect Unplanned to reach between 100 and 200 theaters across Canada. For perspective, the entire Cineplex empire — which, again, controls 80 percent of all screens nationwide — comprises 162 theaters.

The deal secured for Unplanned’s Canadian distribution is a decided victory for the pro-life cause in the public square. Sometimes we have to fight for what we believe, but the mere fact that that fight exists doesn’t mean that we’re losing. (For what it’s worth, neither of the previous suits against Jack Phillips has been successful. The only discernible effect the Masterpiece Bakery case has had on our culture is greatly intensified conservative support for Phillips and others like him.)

With the culture war, it is indeed true that “the only way is through,” as Sohrab Ahmari, the most vocal critic of the civil approach, has famously remarked. Abby Johnson and those telling her story are leading that way through — courageously, tirelessly, and civilly. The rest of us would do well to fall in line behind them.

Declan Leary is an editorial intern at National Review and a junior at John Carroll University.

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