Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of slavery. But since Hollywood doesn't release new titles on Thursday, it's waiting until today to launch Amazing Grace, a new movie about 18th-century British abolitionist William Wilberforce. The flick, directed by Michael Apted (creator of the mesmerizing 7-Up documentary series) and produced by the studio that did The Chronicles of Narnia, is getting enthusiastic advance reviews. But nowhere is the film more highly anticipated than among conservative Christians, who see parallels between Wilberforce's moral battle and their faith-based campaign against sex trafficking. But Wilberforce's unlikely victory is also viewed as a metaphor for the Christian right's struggle to remake the culture. Presidential hopeful Sam Brownback was dubbed a "Wilberforce Republican" by the Economist, and has eagerly accepted the title. And check out this email appeal I recently received from Ted Baehr, who runs MovieGuide, an evangelical movie review site:
One man, William Wilberforce, was used by God to abolish the slave trade in England and bring about a reformation of manners.
Imagine what you and I can do together to redeem the media and save our culture! [...]
Because of Wilberforce's willingness to serve the Lord, a Victorian society where women and children were safe and where the Church was addressing social evils in creative ways saved a nation that was quickly falling into rampant paganism.
[...] you can help us bring about a moral reform in our nation that will set the captives free from the bondage and slavery of corrupt media.
This is the chance for the Church in our era to address social evils in creative ways!
Wilberforce has officially been recruited as a culture warrior. (BTW, MovieGuide gives Amazing Grace four stars, though it warns viewers that it contains "female cleavage.")
Of course, Wilberforce's story doesn't just resonate with religious conservatives. His against-the-odds struggle for social justice plucks liberal heartstrings as wellours included. For a progressive interpretation of British abolitionism, see Mother Jones co-founder Adam Hochshild's most recent book, Bury the Chains, which argues that the anti-slavery movement was "the first great human-rights campaign." As Hochschild explained when I interviewed him:
In a time that feels politically grim, especially for anyone in the U.S. who cares about social justice, I hope people will take heart from a story of folks who started a campaign at a time when it looked even grimmer. The idea of ending slavery seemed totally utopian, crackpot, wildly too idealistic. But they succeeded. And they succeeded in 50 years, in the lifespan of some people [...] They went through some very grim times, one of them being the long wartime period like the one we're seeing now. Wartime is bad news for progressives, and it was the same thing [during the Napoleonic wars]. So I guess to the extent that it's possible for a book like this to have any effect, I would just like to see it have the effect of making people working for justice today feel heartened and to know that any big struggle will always be a long one with many setbacks.
I don't see anyone calling themselves "Wilberforce Democrats" any time soon, but that's no reason to let the right lay exlcusive claim to the legacy of abolitionism, or even Amazing Grace. So take a break from your usual pagan film fare and see if it lives up to the hype. (And for you history buffs/Afropop fans, it's your chance to see Youssou N'Dour's silver screen debut as Olaudah Equiano.)
A new study commissioned by Greenpeace [PDF] found that that OmegaPure brand omega-3 fish oil supplements contains high levels of DDT, the pesticide Dieldrin, and PCBs. Yikes. That's bad news for consumers of OmegaPure, which is made by Omega Protein, North America's biggest fish-oil producer. But as we've already reported, DDT and PCBs aren't the only reasons thoughtful consumers might want to skip OmegaPure. First of all, it's made from menhaden, an ecologically crucial fish that's in danger of being wiped out by Omega's fishery. And if you still need a fatty acid fix, there are other, less destructive options out there. Which is not to say that other fish-oil products don't contain some of the nasty stuff apparently in menhaden oil. I suspect that there's no longer such a thing as a contaminant-free fish oil.
The White House has long claimed that our presence in Iraq attracts terrorists who might otherwise attack American interests. This assertion has always seemed dubious, but in a new Mother Jones exclusive study, Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank put the "flypaper" theory firmly to rest. They've crunched the numbers and found that the Iraq War has, in fact, led to a significant increase in jihadist terrorism across the globe. Call it the "Iraq Effect." If you include Iraq and Afghanistan, terror attacks have increased 609% since the U.S. took Baghdad; take away Iraq and Afghanistan and the increase drops, but it's still a hefty 35%. Rather than eliminating terrorists, Bergen and Cruickshank explain, the war has energized terror groups and become a "catalyst for the increasing globalization of the jihadist cause." It's a sobering assessment of an overlooked consequence of the Iraq debacle.
The full study will be posted tonight at 10 PM Eastern/7 PM Pacific, when Bergen and Cruickshank will be appearing on Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN to discuss the Iraq Effect. Bergen will appear on C-Span's Washington Journal tomorrow morning at 9:15 AM Eastern/6:15 AM Pacific.
And stay tuned as we roll out more of our "Iraq 101" package tonight. It's loaded with info on everything you wanted to know about the war but were afraid to ask.
This week's crazy intellectual property showdown: International Falls, Minnesota, and Fraser, Colorado, are in a spat over who legally owns the title "Icebox of the Nation." Fraser reportedly gave IF permission to use the title, which it trademarked. But then IF let the trademark lapse, and Fraser has filed to get it back. Part of the reason the towns are claiming to be the most inhospitable place in the continental U.S.? It's a great marketing tool: Fraser renamed its main drag after the antifreeze company that gave residents a free supply one year, and Goodyear once provided snow tires for every car in town. This spat is reminiscent of the 13-year fight over the title "Surf City," one of many examples of IP overkill MJ collected last year. Can't they just settle this with a snowball fight?
Al Gore's anti-global warming/entertainment juggernaut continues. Gore, in conjunction with the Microsoft Network, just announced Live Earth, a series of Live 8-style worldwide concerts on July 7. Proceeds will go to found "a new, multi-year global effort to combat the climate crisis." (Yeah, but only after Ticket Master gets its cut.) The lineup includes Pharrell, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Snoop Dogg, Lenny Kravitz, and Bon Jovi, to name a few. (No word on enviropunks Green Day yet, but Snow Patrol will also be rockin' to protect the glaciers.) And before you shell out for tix, get up to speed with our recent coverage of climate change.