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'Temptation': Who Said What? : Protester to Apologize to Universal Pictures Chairman

July 20, 1988|PAT H. BROESKE

An evangelical activist who is among those leading protests against Universal Pictures' "The Last Temptation of Christ" said Tuesday that he has wrongly attributed an inflammatory remark--about Christian objections to the film--to a top studio executive.

Christian protesters have used the claim that Universal Motion Picture Group Chairman Tom Pollock once declared "the Christians aren't going to stop us from releasing this film!" to fuel opposition to the film and to rally support for their campaign to block release of the Martin Scorsese-directed film.

Pollock, who on Tuesday reaffirmed Universal's intention to release the movie this fall, has insisted that he never made the statement and that the protesters "made it up, just as they made a lot of other things up and will continue to make things up."

And now, protest leader Larry Poland--who heads Mastermedia, which ministers to members of the entertainment industry and attempts to keep the community outside the industry "alerted to the potentially erosive influence of some media product on Christian and family values"--is saying that he was wrong to attribute the statement to Pollock and that he will formally apologize to the Universal executive.

"I assure you that I am going to be in touch with Tom Pollock, asking his forgiveness," Poland said. "I am embarrassed and chagrined to discover that the quote I attributed to Tom Pollock was not from him, after all."

Instead, said Poland, another Universal executive--who he declined to identify--did make the provocative statement that had been emphasized in an emotional three-page letter sent earlier this month to seek support for the "Last Temptation" protest. Poland said it was mailed to 5,500 Mastermedia followers who are not in the entertainment industry. (The organization also claims about 500 followers within the industry.)

Since Poland's mailing, the Pollock "quote" has become a rallying cry for those conservative Christians who believe that "The Last Temptation" demeans and misrepresents Jesus. The statement was echoed last week when Poland and other Southern California conservative Christian leaders held a news conference in Universal City.

Poland said he will be sending his followers a follow-up letter "to correct this inaccuracy."

Said Poland: "I can understand if Tom Pollock is angry about this. We would scream bloody murder if you in the press had done such a thing to us, wouldn't we? In a sense, I'm relieved about this. There's enough fire in this situation without there having to be anything unfair, hurtful or unkind being said or done."

Poland's original letter--which was accompanied by a two-page "Last Temptation" "fact sheet" ("which has been Xeroxed and passed along among multitudes of concerned Christians," according to Poland)--accuses the film industry of having "declared war on us."

"In what has to be the moral equivalent of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, the biggest film studio in America, Universal Studios, launched a surprise attack not only on believers in Jesus Christ but in our Lord!" Poland wrote.

That attack happened, Poland said, when Universal reneged on plans to have a mid-June advance screening of the film for religious leaders, thus depriving "believers of any chance to respond, react or influence the content of the movie prior to its theater release."

After emphasizing, once again, that Pollock had declared "the Christians aren't going to stop us from releasing this film!," Poland asked in the letter, "Are we going to let a movie slander our Lord's life, deity and message? Are we going to roll over and play dead in the face of a taunt like that?"

The accompanying "fact sheet"--which includes a history of the film project, based on Nikos Kazantzakis' 1955 novel--goes on to suggest what might be tabbed battle tactics.

Those tactics range from prayers for key figures at Universal and its parent company, MCA Inc., "that God will show himself to them in a powerful way, convincing them to kill the film," to pressure tactics such as letter-writing and telephone campaigns (the main Universal telephone number and the Universal address are listed). And even threats of boycotts to MCA-owned businesses.

There were reports that MCA's phone lines were flooded with protest calls on Monday and that some conservative Christians who picketed Universal over the weekend plan to picket at the home of MCA Chairman Lew Wasserman on Wednesday. Asked about the recent and threatened picketing, Pollock said the controversy surrounding the unreleased film has become "an issue of freedom--of religion, of expression, of the press."

Pollock said Universal Pictures will issue a statement later this week in response to the recent offer made by a prominent evangelical leader who wants to reimburse the studio for the film, in order that all the prints be destroyed.

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