God's Not Dead 2
“You want a safe place where every choice is a good choice, and you know what? We want that, too.” This is not an alt-right send-up of liberal culture or a calligraphed invitation to a sex cult; it is how David A.R. White, cofounder of pureflix.com, explains the allure of his 2-year-old streaming site in an uncannily lit video on its "About" page. A “catalogue of quality, Christ-centered movies,” Pure Flix hosts and produces thousands of films and TV shows either free of or condemning sex and sensuality outside of marriage, words like “hell” and “damn,” anything remotely queer, and “immodestly dressed” teens. In other words, Pure Flix is just like Netflix, but for “families of faith,” specifically the faith that sees earthly life as a filthy pit stop on the way to heaven, populated by millions of feckless, hell-bound sinners in need of salvation. But hey, while they're stuck here, might as well crush a ton of pure-ass content.
In that same "About Us" video, White explains that Pure Flix's true motive is not to sate the unremitting national appetite for evangelical comedians lecturing lesbians about their life choices, but rather to “change our culture for Christ, one heart at a time.” At one point, White thanks Pure Flix's viewers for “partnering” with the company to accomplish total Jesus domination. Just a few weeks ago, Alysoun Wolfe, another cofounder, told the New York Times's Katherine Rosman that Pure Flix “need[s] to reach a broader audience, because we want to get the moral lessons out.”
Pure Flix is already succeeding in broadening its appeal, drawing hundreds of thousands of viewers monthly and making millions off of theatrical releases like 2014's God's Not Dead, a film starring White and excoriating liberal writers like myself. As a bloggin', bacchanalian Jewess with a closet full of small skirts facing a probable new world order, I found myself quite curious about what, exactly, Pure Flix's “moral lessons” are. So I watched a few of the site's most popular films (almost all of which were directed by white men, which I'm sure is a meaningless coincidence, and whose rankings are constantly changing) in an attempt to find out: What do White and Wolfe and Co. want our culture to look like? Could this have anything to do with, I don't know, just riffing here, politics? What is purity (cc: Jonathan Franzen)? Am I pure? Can I get pure if I watch enough pure stuff? What ... does Pure Flix ... want from me?????
I'm Not Ashamed (2016)
I'm Not Ashamed was the most popular movie on Pure Flix at the time of writing. It follows, then, that this must be the purest film of all time. Described by Pure Flix's in-depth rating system as having a “very strong Christian worldview,” I'm Not Ashamed features “many moments of praying among friends, families, and church members” and “moral elements.” I am promised that it contains “no foul language” and “no nudity,” but does include “some teenage girls dress[ed] immodestly” (tight jeans and cowboy boots, extremely long shorts), “one scene of two clothed teens on a bed interrupted,” and children who are “rude and disrespectful to parents.” It also stars, without explanation, two of the cast members of Duck Dynasty.
I'm Not Ashamed is, bafflingly, a family-friendly drama about the Columbine shootings. More specifically, the movie bills itself as a “true story” following the final days of real-life victim Rachel Joy Scott, pulling excerpts from her actual diary and blurring select facts with fiction. It goes without saying that Scott's real story is horribly tragic, but this film does her a weird and gross disservice by warping her into a sort of Christ figure to further its political and religious agendas. Scott is shown struggling to maintain her Christian faith in the face of secular peers doing demonic things like making out and drinking PBR and wearing snug army prints; in the final scene, her vocal confirmation of that faith is what ultimately ends up getting her killed, and what the film hinges its message on (even though this account of Scott's final moments has been questioned in the years since the shooting).
I'm Not Ashamed even goes as far as to air real news and security-camera footage from Columbine to make its point, which is that there was a discernible and solvable “reason for the violence” — something the Christian right has insisted upon for years. But this time, the culprit isn't video games, or trench coats, or Marilyn Manson, or a “lack of gentlemanliness.” Instead, I'm Not Ashamed draws a straight line from Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris's brutal murders of their classmates to the fact that their school taught them about evolution instead of creationism and that they refused to accept Jesus's love. (Of course, the “reason” for Scott's death is entirely unknowable, the inscrutable but blindly accepted will of God — who “knows what he's doing, and knows what's best for me,” writes Scott in her journal at one point.) In I'm Not Ashamed, being a non-Christian is conflated with being “fake” or a “social plastic person” at best; at worst, it drives you to gleeful mass murder. If you feel uncomfortable with the idea of a film exploiting a dead teenager to hammer home “moral lessons” about the fatal dangers of secular humanism — and using her death as propaganda to further the falsehood that Christians in America are routinely persecuted for their beliefs, despite making up 70 percent of the adult population — congratulations, we are the same amount of pure, i.e., negative pure.
Moral Lessons Imparted:
• Jumping into a pool with all of your clothes on with your friends is impure, but jumping into a lake with all of your clothes on with your Christian cousins is pure.
• Kissing aboveground is pure, but kissing near a bowl of dog food in a basement is impure.
• Kissing more than one boy in your teenage life is impure.
• If you learn about Darwinism at school, you will eventually and inevitably kill everyone you know.
Am I Pure Yet?: No, this movie infuriated me and anger is a sin.
God's Not Dead 2 (2016)
God's Not Dead 2* was the third most popular film on Pure Flix, a fact that had to chafe slightly for White, who stars as a pastor who spills on himself a lot. Melissa Joan Hart (!) plays Grace, a teacher who, when a student asks why she “never lets anything get to her,” replies, “Jesus.” If I were paranoid, I'd wonder, not idly, why the girl from Duck Dynasty is back again, this time as a godly student of Grace's. If I were a career conspiracy theorist, I'd wonder why liberal blogger Amy's cancer goes away out of nowhere after she accepts Jesus and Duck Dynasty into her heart (apparently, in the first film, she wrote a piece criticizing Duck Dynasty and ... got cancer).
Much like I'm Not Ashamed, GND2 is an exercise in whipping up paranoia that the “liberal elites” want nothing more than to crush the world's Christian population beneath a pile of raucous abortion clinics. Grace gets embroiled in a major lawsuit because she answers a student's question comparing a Martin Luther King Jr. quotation to a biblical passage, and is accused of flagrantly disregarding separation of church and state. The straw man argument here: the Future Liberals Want is a world where Christians will be “afraid to say Jesus's name.” This is a patently insane plot point that masquerades as something that could actually happen in an attempt to rile up the audience and, yet again, bolsters the illusory argument that white American Christians are the marginalized underdogs who must bravely push back against the deep moral failings of their godless countrymen. Duck Dynasty further rears its powerful, fearsome beak again when Grace's jurors are divided into Christian Marines who like Duck Dynasty and atheist psychics who like Pretty Little Liars.
This particular movie's convert is Brooke, the young atheist student who asked Grace about MLK and Jesus and whose brother has just died. Despite professing messages of non-judgment and religious freedom, the film condemns atheism as a philosophy that “takes away the pain, but takes away the hope,” specifically as a way to chide and patronize Brooke, whose moral vacuum is indicated by her maroon eye shadow, short skirts, and general ennui. She's sad because she hasn't found Christ, not because, you know, her brother is dead. Brooke's integrity is tested when Ray Wise — in gorgeously demented Twin Peaks form as a scheisty lawyer — explains to her parents that “being part of a landmark constitutional case” will help her get into an Ivy League school (intellectualism = bad), and he'll help them “prove once and for all that God is dead,” if only she will testify against Grace in court. Spoiler alert: Brooke finds her dead bro's Bible, joyfully announces that “God's not dead” to a group of rowdy protesters, and goes to a state school (probably).
*Disclaimer: I watched God's Not Dead 2 without having seen God's Not Dead, so please forgive me for potentially missing any nuance that one might catch only by seeing both features.
Moral Lessons Imparted:
• “The most basic human right of all” is not, as popularly believed, “life,” but rather, the “right to know Jesus.”
• If you don't like Duck Dynasty, sorry, but you are going to hell.
• Ivy League schools and legal settlements are impure.
• Blogging and reporting are impure, unless you are reporting historical facts about Jesus, or journaling about your own conversion.
• TV reporting is the most impure form of journalism, indicated by its willingness to express concern about the influence of Christian extremism on our national politics.
• But Mike Huckabee going on TV to talk about Jesus is pure.
• Psychological counseling is impure.
• Notions of being “offended,” “tolerant,” and “diverse” are impure.
• Dirty shoes are pure, shiny shoes are impure.
Am I Pure Yet?: I went to college and have marinara sauce on my shoe. But most of all, by blogging about whether I am pure, I have committed the ultimate impure act.
I Am... Gabriel (2012)
I Am... Gabriel, the fifth-most-watched movie on Pure Flix, begins with a woman's baby dying during a home birth because she pushes too hard. The doctor makes no attempt to save the baby or even glance at it; exactly one second after the woman, named Ellen, goes unconscious, he turns to her distraught husband Joe and is like, “Sorry.” Immediately thereafter, the nurse looks up at her colleague. “Doctor, why do bad things happen to good people?” she asks. “I don't know,” he says, squinting at nothing. “Who am I to question God?”
This incident is the impetus for a 10-year period of classic biblical Sturm und Drang in the baby's would-be hometown of Promise, Texas: crops are dying, homes are foreclosing, dust is blowing around, white bros in backward baseball hats are busking on street corners, teens are taking pills at school fundraisers, and nobody goes to church anymore. That is, until a young, mysterious boy with big blue eyes, a mid-aughts Bieber haircut, well-ironed linen separates, and a tendency to start glowing arrives in town. Gabe, who appears to be 10 or 11 years old, claims he has no last name and no backstory, and nobody attempts to identify him or locate his family outside of a few half-hearted Google searches; instead, they send him to live with Ellen and Joe and have chill conversations with him on park benches.
Gabe knows every detail about everyone in Promise's life, but does not know what a PB&J is, so he is obviously a divine messenger sent to turn everybody back on to God. Ultimately, Gabe saves Promise from total godless destruction by: encouraging Ellen to start sewing prayer mats “for the entire world”; saving the crops by pouring a water bottle onto a gym floor; shaming local journalists for wanting to write a national news story about him, teaching them a lesson about the evils of personal ambition; curing a kid's blindness with his hands; and starting a prayer circle that brings an OD victim back from the dead. In other words, what I Am... Gabriel wants you to understand is that the answer to the nurse's question about bad things and good people is “because they don't pray enough.” The only thing standing between a cure for your blindness, never going hungry again, and literally reversing your own death is whether you decide to kneel onto that mat. So, yeah, up to you!!
Moral Lessons Imparted:
• Kidnapping is pure, as long as the child in question is probably an angel.
• If a kid is being manhandled by an unruly cop, the best thing to do ... is pray.
• Taking prescription meds is impure because it makes you rude to people.
• Journalism is, again, impure.
• Ambition is impure, unless your ambition is to sew prayer mats.
• Sleeping is impure; praying all night is pure.
• “Hoping for a change” is not the same as “praying for a change”; only the latter gets results.
• “In a sense, everyone dies.”
Am I Pure Yet?: I'm a journalist who sometimes takes prescription meds and sleeps and has never owned a prayer mat. Also, I'm definitely gonna die in every sense, so no, still not pure.
Love Different (2016)
Love Different fell a bit lower on the first page of the "Most Watched" section, but I had to watch it because the description was so beautifully batshit: “Lindsay Walker, a Caucasian woman who grew up in a small, all-Caucasian town, gets a job at an African-American consulting firm and finds herself in a complete culture shock! An African-American coworker, Neque Campbell, is given the task to help Lindsay get acquainted with the African-American culture ... in order for her not to lose her job.” I can confidently share that this movie is the sloppiest, weirdest piece of media I've ever consumed at will.
Written and directed by star Anthony Hackett and executive produced by “God,” Love Different begins with our Black Culture Guide, Neque (Hackett), pulling faces and rapping 50 Cent's “In Da Club” into his bathroom mirror before eating cereal out of a coffee mug while ignoring his wife. Lindsay, meanwhile, begins her day vamping to a country song and preparing a pancake breakfast for her obnoxious son, who just wants to get to school to play rugby (?). These sorts of scenes, ranging from extremely random caricature to confusing internalized racism, continue for the entirety of the movie, with the black characters bearing the major brunt of the stereotypes in the name of comedy: Neque frightens Lindsay by immediately grinding up on her in the elevator, yelling, “Twerk, twerk, twerk”; Neque's sister teaches Lindsay how to whip a pillow with a belt (the implication being “black people beat their kids”); after a day of “learning about black culture,” Lindsay adopts a blaccent, starts yelling “thug life!!!!” and gesticulates wildly at a cashier. I would say that this was all an irreverent parody of the way many white people perceive black people, but it's not that deep — all of this is played broadly and for laughs, especially Lindsay's wild ignorance, which we're supposed to find goofy and endearing.
After only two days of Neque's instruction — and an episode in which Neque rescues and consoles Lindsay after she is confronted by a racist white dude — Lindsay is “confident that I understand black culture,” a fact she demonstrates by doing an exaggerated Cabbage Patch and letting Neque's sister cornrow her hair. Lindsay also ends up being the one to turn the wayward Neque toward God, and helps him become a better husband, so everybody wins! The fact that this movie was written and directed by a black man just makes it all the more perplexing; Hackett seems to have internalized broad-stroke stereotypes about his own race while also suggesting that there's an equivalence between the way white and black people view and treat one another, sort of a “we're all equally guilty of prejudice!” mentality. He literally writes himself a blue-eyed, blonde white savior who ends the film by making a joke about showing up late to work in hopes of “fitting in” with her black coworkers.
Moral Lessons Imparted:
• Looking at your phone in bed is impure.
• Buying novelty gifts from a Christian bookstore is pure.
• White ignorance and bigotry are pure, as long as that white person loves Jesus.
• Referring to your wife as “No. 1” is impure; she should be the “only one.”
• “People are different, and that's OK.”
Am I Pure Yet?: According to this movie, for a white person, purity merely means “not being a virulent racist.” So, yeah!
Alison's Choice (2015)
You won't be surprised to learn that the choice in question in Alison's Choice is whether a teenage girl should get an abortion so that she can continue on with her life. You also won't be surprised to learn that the answer is, “Def not, because Jesus.”
Alison's Choice begins with Alison's boyfriend convincing her to let him hit it raw in a parking lot. “Don't you love me?” he asks. She is knocked up by the next scene. Before the intro credits have even finished rolling, she's at the abortion clinic. Her first interaction is with a Sassy Black Woman with Acrylic Nails Who Has Never Been to College, who's had multiple abortions and tells Alison with a wink that she's “never paid for one.” For some reason, literally everyone in the abortion clinic is hell-bent (thank you) on talking to Alison about her abortion. The receptionist says, “I could lose my job for asking you this, but are you sure about what you're doing?” A gaudy counselor named Marta shows up out of nowhere to tell Alison that she had an abortion as a teen but is totally fine now, though her face falls when Alison points out that she only has one child and that's “kinda sad.” A nurse at the clinic encourages Alison to get an abortion like she once did, so Alison, too, can buy herself fancy jewelry, go on nice vacations, and have a lot of cats, the implication being that she is a selfish spinster. The doctor waxes poetic about veganism and juicing and discourages Alison's talk of religion (“I'm a doctor, I deal in science”), the implication being that he is a dementedly evil liberal.
Writer and director Bruce Marchiano — who says he made the film to “literally save lives of babies” — plays Jesus, who introduces himself by speaking in a raspy, Scream-esque voice-over to Alison about how much he loves her (“I love you, Alison. I love you. I love you. I love you”) and “desires for her goodness.” He ultimately manifests as the abortion-clinic janitor, and the two have an uncomfortably flirty meet-cute that ends in him convincing her to dump her boyfriend. Every time another woman goes in for her procedure, he starts to cry. “My babies,” he wails. “They're killing my babies.”
You know this already, but it's heavily implied that Alison doesn't go through with the abortion. Jesus the Janitor spends the duration of the movie guilt-tripping her, showing her softly lit computer animations of her fetus and telling her that, even though she doesn't think it's the “right time” for a baby, he's “hand-forming your little girl as we speak,” and he can't bear her dying “at the hands of her own mother.” “Your little girl just wants her mommy to love her,” he sobs, kneeling at her feet right before the procedure. Alison's own worries — that she can “barely take care of myself,” and that she wants to have kids someday, just not now — are utterly invalidated (maybe because the GOP doesn't exactly give a shit about babies once they're actually born and facing complex problems), and the movie suggests that a decision made in a guilty moral panic is the right one. Early on in the film, when she's still planning on getting the abortion, Alison sighs that she doesn't feel like she “has any choice” in the matter. And as far as Pure Flix is concerned, she doesn't.
Moral Lessons Imparted:
• Girls should “try to keep their drawers on,” which would totally negate the need for abortion.
• Sex before marriage is bad, because it can result in an unplanned pregnancy, and then you have to have the baby, so it's a blessing and it was all part of God's plan, so sex before marriage is actually fine?
• Paying for abortions is pure, but getting abortions is impure.
• “If we're not supposed to tell women what to do with their bodies, why can we tell a baby what to do with his body?”
• If you don't convince your girlfriend to keep her baby, you are not a man.
• Juicing, veganism, nice vacations, cats, and having just one kid are impure.
Five Films Later ... Am I Pure Yet?: As a grown-up baby who believes women have a right to make decisions about their own bodies, reporting facts is important, low-key kidnapping a child is bad, evolution is real, praying will not bring dead people back to life, therapy is healthy, solo vacations are cool, black people are not a monolith, tolerance and diversity are important, and Duck Dynasty is bad, I am, officially, the physical manifestation of Pure Flix's most impure nightmare.
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