Denver Newsroom, Mar 2, 2021 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences— the nationwide body that votes for the Academy Awards— recently declined to watch a film that critiques abortion regulations, drawing public ire from a pro-choice filmmaker who created it.
The film, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” follows a 17-year-old girl as she travels from Pennsylvania to New York to obtain an abortion. The fictional film was inspired by news stories of women traveling from areas with more restrictive abortion laws to areas with more permissive laws, the director has said.
The film has drawn praise from abortion advocates, with director Eliza Hittman awarded the 2020 “Media Excellence Award” from Planned Parenthood last month.
However, when recently asked via email by Hittman’s publicist if he had seen the film yet, filmmaker Kieth Merrill replied that he was not interested in reviewing it.
“[A]s a Christian, the father of 8 children and 39 grandchildren. AND pro-life advocate, I have ZERO interest in watching a woman cross state lines so someone can murder her unborn child,” the email, purportedly from Merrill to the filmmaker’s publicist, reads.
“75,000,000 of us recognize abortion for the atrocity it is. There is nothing heroic about a mother working so hard to kill her child.”
Hittman, the film’s director, took to Instagram to denounce Merrill for declining to watch her film and consider it for an Oscar.
“This email came in last night and was a harsh reminder that the Academy is still so painfully monopolized by an old white puritanical male guard. I wonder how many other voters out there won’t watch the film,” Hittman wrote in a now-deleted post, calling Merrill “puritanical.”
Merrill has been a member of the Academy for nearly 50 years, having won an Oscar in 1973 for the documentary “The Great American Cowboy.” He is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and has produced films in the past for the Mormon church, a nontrinitarian religion founded in the 19th century in New York.
The Academy has nearly 10,000 members, all of whom are eligible to vote for Best Picture. Voting ends March 10, with the Oscars ceremony set to be held April 25.
Members are not required to watch every film that qualifies for the Oscars, but are encouraged to watch as many as possible, Variety reported.
Variety reached out to Merrill for further comment.
“Her film is an expression of who she is. My absence of interest in watching her film is an expression of who I am,” Merrill wrote in an email response to Variety.
“We are equally valid in our choices, what we do, and how we choose to live our lives.”
He noted that with over 360 films in contention for best picture in 2021, Academy voters have to be discerning about what they choose to watch, lest it consume all their time.
Merrill told Variety that he does not watch any horror films or movies with “graphic sex or gratuitous violence or radical social agendas.”
“For me, there is nothing entertaining or inspiring about killing unborn babies. I chose not to watch [Hittman]’s film because it legitimizes abortion…I believe abortion is wrong in all but the most extreme circumstances. Not only wrong, I believe it is an evil, and incomprehensible atrocity.”
Merrill did not reply to CNA’s request for further comment.
Hittman has said that in researching her film, she visited Planned Parenthood clinics throughout the country, and pretended to be a pregnant woman in need of aid in order to gain access to pro-life pregnancy centers.
“Abortion tourism,” the topic of the film, is common in the United States as some states move to restrict abortion, while others seek to liberalize it.
Women in states such as Missouri, which has robust pro-life protections, often avail themselves of abortions in the neighboring states of Kansas and Illinois, which offer far less protection for unborn children.
Abortion clinics in states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, which did not introduce any pandemic-related restrictions on abortion last year, saw increases in patients traveling from other states, such as Texas, to undergo the procedure during spring 2020.
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