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 » Winners list  |  Red carpet  |  Special Report

No Oscar battle for 'Passion' partisans

But activists will be watching Hollywood, they say

By Thom Patterson
CNN

Passion
"The Passion of the Christ," starring Jim Caviezel and directed by Mel Gibson, earned more than $370 million.
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(CNN) -- Internet Christian soldiers are admitting defeat in their battle to win a best picture Oscar nomination for "The Passion of the Christ" -- but their campaign to influence Hollywood goes on.

Web sites supporting Mel Gibson's movie about Jesus' final hours -- the eighth-highest grossing American film of all time -- failed to convince enough Oscar voters that it deserved a best picture nomination.

The movie did, however, garner nomination nods for musical score, makeup and cinematography.

"Hollywood has spoken. 'Don't mess with us,' is what they're saying," said Jennifer Giroux of seethepassion.com. " 'Don't mess with us because we will not consider your talent if you do anything that is Christian,' is the message that's coming out."

Giroux, 42, is a married mother of nine. From her home computer in Cincinnati, Ohio, she -- and thousands of activists across the nation -- pressured theaters to show the film. Then, they worked to get the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to nominate it for best picture. Some 22,000 people posted comments on Giroux's Web site.

Patrick Hynes, a married, 32-year-old father and advertising copywriter, collected 25,000 signatures on a petition on his Web site, passionforfairness.com. He sent it to the academy -- but received no response.

Disappointed by the announcement of Oscar nominees on Tuesday, the groups briefly considered boycotting movie theaters and targeting companies that will advertise on the ABC Oscar broadcast on February 27 in hopes of demonstrating some economic muscle.

"I briefly floated the idea of a boycott of Hollywood --- and certainly the Oscars -- but in the end I don't think that would be productive, so I decided against it," said Hynes, who is based in Washington.

Subject to criticism

Both Giroux and Hynes accuse the academy of snubbing "Passion" simply because of its Christian theme. But Oscar scholar Tom O'Neil, host of awards handicapping site Goldderby.com, said Christianity had nothing to do with it.

"The faulty premise here among the disciples of 'Passion' is that the movie was worthy," O'Neil said. "The vast consensus of American film critics said it was not worthy -- beginning with The New York Times, which called the movie a 'serious artistic failure.' " (See critics' takes.)

"A movie that got far, far better reviews and made even more money as the seventh-ranking movie of all time -- 'Shrek 2' -- wasn't nominated for best picture either and nobody's outraged about that," he said.

In fact, O'Neil said, "Christian movies historically have done very, very well at the Oscars, going back to best picture winners, 'Going My Way' and 'Ben-Hur.' In recent years, a top Oscar went to somebody portraying a nun in a respectful way -- Susan Sarandon in 'Dead Man Walking.' "

Even before it was released in February 2004, commentators began to criticize "Passion," accusing it of anti-Semitism in its portrayal of the story's Jewish leaders.

"We were troubled ... that it portrayed the Jews, the Jewish community, in a manner that we have experienced historically. Seeing passion plays used to incite not only a passion of love in terms of Christianity, but at the same time, to instill and incite a hatred of the Jews because of deicide," Anti-Defamation League Executive Director Abraham Foxman told CNN at the time.

Some Roman Catholic officials were troubled by the film's graphic nature. "There's so much violence that was part of the script, I mean, the suffering of Jesus is -- I have to say, in my reading of the script, to me, there was a fixation on the suffering, the torture, the brutality done to Jesus," said Sister Mary C. Boys of the Union Theological Seminary.

Gibson -- who directed the film -- denied it was anti-Semitic. He intended the film "to inspire, not offend," he said.

Gibson is deeply religious. He is a member of the Traditionalist Catholics -- a Roman Catholic splinter movement whose followers believe in celebrating Mass in Latin and rejecting the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

'The politics in Hollywood'

Hynes and Giroux -- who are both Roman Catholics -- will still wield their computer mice to promote Christian film fare in Hollywood.

Giroux said that during her recent tiff with Oscar, she learned something along the way.

"I'm just naive in thinking that Hollywood's fair," Giroux said. "That was what I found to be the most disturbing and the most telltale is that obviously the Oscars are about the politics in Hollywood, not about the artistic quality and talent of those that are making the movie."

For his part, Hynes will be watching the film industry -- and using his Web-based platform to spread his message.

"I think, given the success of 'The Passion of the Christ,' other people will start generating some faith-based films," Hynes said. "And we're going to watch to see if those continue to get snubbed and ridiculed and receive the same kind of enmity that Hollywood ladled on Mel Gibson and 'The Passion.' And if they are, we're going to speak out against them."


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