Washington Post article
February 13, 1993

Christian Groups Advocate Family-Friendly Movie Code

by Carey Kinsolving

The head of the Christian Film and Television Commission this week presented movie industry leaders with 1 million signatures calling for a new family-friendly movie code.

Ted Baehr, in a ceremony in Los Angeles honoring the best family films of the year, said the signatures that were collected by several Christian organizations advocate returning to a movie code similar to one used from 1933 to 1966.

The proposed guidelines call on movie producers to respect human life, to portray romantic relationships without nudity, to show restraint in the portrayal of sexual aberrations, and to eliminate language that incites bigotry and hatred. Slasher films and nude scenes are definitely out, according to the proposed code.

Baehr, armed with law and theology degrees, is waging a campaign to bring back movies and television programs that families can watch together. He tries to get movie producers and distributors to make the connection between Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age, from 1933 through 1966, and its adherence to the Motion Picture Code, which interdenominational church officials helped enforce.

In 1969, after much of Hollywood abandoned the code, box office went down from 44 million weekly attendance to 17 million, and it’s never recovered, Baehr said in an interview here last week. “Basically, they killed the family audience. It’s better to sell four tickets to a family than one ticket to a teenager.”

Baehr, who was in Washington for President Clinton’s prayer breakfast last week, reviews films in “Movieguide: A Biblical Guide to Movies and Entertainment,” a biweekly periodical he publishes. Of the 25 top grossing box office hits in 1992, 24 percent made “Movieguide’s” top choices list. Time magazine’s reviewers picked only 16 percent of these films to be hits, said Baehr, and others did even worse: The Los Angeles Times picked 8 percent, and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times picked 4 percent.

Baehr began his reviews in 1987 and added his lobbying effort two years later. He is past president of the Episcopal Radio-TV Foundation and former executive producer and host of its weekly Public Broadcasting Service television program, “Perspectives.”

“What is surprising is that the heads of the motion picture studios continue to be amazed when movies with Christian themes and wide audience appeal, such as ‘Chariots of Fire’ or ‘A Man Called Peter,’ consistently make big money at the box office,” Baehr said. “’Ben-Hur’ literally saved MGM from bankruptcy in 1959, just as ‘The Ten Commandments’ rescued struggling Paramount from the brink in 1956.”

Baehr, who is based in Atlanta, is critical of Christian groups that protest offensive films without suggesting boundaries for filmmakers. “I believe we are called as Christians to influence the world around us – to be the salt and light, to bring God’s grace into the world.”

Baehr cited four choices that he believes characterize Christian attitudes towards culture: separate from it, coexist with it, participate in it or change it. Baehr has chosen to function as an agent of change and encourages others to do the same.

“The value of letters is extremely important,” he said. “Many say that three letters will destroy a program or make a program. Supporting the good also makes a difference.”

Not everyone agrees with Baehr. In a letter to Baehr, Kathy Garmezy, executive director of the Hollywood Policy Center, expressed her concern about “Movieguide’s” new code. “Your effort to enforce your own code on others is the kind of censorship that is dangerous for all our futures,” Garmezy wrote.

Baehr, in response, said, “Censorship is prior restraint by the government. We are not advocating censorship in announcing the revised Motion Picture and Television Code, but moral persuasion.”

In the case of writer and film producer Joe Cranston, the persuasion is welcome. Cranston had worked on several movies that could be characterized as tawdry, such as “Corpse Grinders” and “The Crawling Hand.” But he has abandoned his former endeavors in favor of G-rated celluloid.

“Because of my association with other Christians, I can’t do anything like that anymore,” said Cranston. He is now producing a film about the life of Wal-Mart magnate Sam Walton.