Gimme Shelter, a film with a powerful pro-life message that opened yesterday in theaters around the country, almost didn’t make it to the screen; certain forces in Hollywood thought it might be a bit too influential. After all, this was no low-budget film with unknown actors and a hit-you-over-the-head faith message aimed primarily at churchgoers.
Instead, Gimme Shelter has big stars and an award-winning director who has created a film with enough power and subtlety to inspire a wide spectrum of Americans. And that’s what made it so dangerous to the fanatically pro-abortion Hollywood crowd.
“It’s a miracle that this film is even being released,” says director Ron Krauss, who has also directed films about disabilities and human trafficking. “I can’t tell you what I went through to get this film out.” After shooting Gimme Shelter, “I spent literally almost a year pushing and pushing people to get this movie out. A lot of people in Hollywood actually went out of their way to make sure this movie would not come out. People tried to pay me off — and I just kept saying, No no no no no. And then I came across someone who was willing to help me.”
Gimme Shelter, based on a true story, is about a pregnant teenager called Apple (played by Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical fame) who runs away from her abusive mother and prefers life on the street to living with a wealthy Wall Street father who wants her to have an abortion. After an accident in a stolen car, Apple lands in a hospital, where she encounters perhaps the first person who has ever really cared about her: Father Frank McCarthy (played by James Earl Jones). Father McCarthy convinces Apple to give a try to a shelter for pregnant teens. Here, she meets Kathy DiFiore, a devout Catholic who has run shelters for pregnant girls for 30 years. Apple is surrounded by other pregnant teens and by teen mothers who have recently given birth. Slowly, she begins to learn how to trust, and her new “sisters” become a much-loved family.
The take-away message: When you talk about “choice,” people of faith are the ones offering a real choice to some of the most desperate young mothers around — those nobody else cares about.
The actors so believed in the project that they worked for little or no money, and the biggest stars — Brendan Fraser, who plays Apple’s father, and James Earl Jones — donated their salaries to the real-life shelters run by DiFiore, whose work has been honored by three presidents.
Krauss got the idea for Gimme Shelter while visiting his brother over the holidays a few years ago. One of DiFiore’s shelters was about a mile from his brother’s house, and he decided to pay it a visit. “I knocked on the door and introduced myself, and saw what was going on. I actually borrowed Kathy’s video camera and started interviewing the girls.”
Krauss visited again and again, and one day he encountered a young girl “who had walked about 25 miles to get there in freezing weather with no jacket. And she was three months pregnant.” Learning that some 750,000 teenagers become pregnant each year, Krauss began to believe the issue needed to be addressed in a way that would get the public’s attention. After making a documentary, he set to work on a feature film.
When Brendan Fraser, whom Krauss calls “a person of faith,” said he wanted to play Apple’s father, “I was taken aback,” Krauss says, “because he was a big actor, and I didn’t really expect to have big actors in this movie. And James Earl Jones actually studied to be a priest when he was younger, and he understands a lot about racism, and about compassion and healing and faith.” Rosario Dawson, who plays Apple’s junkie mother, “grew up in poverty,” and many of the actresses who play the teen mothers were actually shelter moms, Krauss tells me, “so it really had an authentic cast, whose motivation was not about money, but about getting an authentic message out.”
Except it almost didn’t get out. Krauss maintains that the hostility directed toward Gimme Shelter was even harsher than that directed toward Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ “because this film really connects with people.” Hollywood, he notes, doesn’t care about most of the films Christians make because they tend to be a bit amateurish and formulaic – “the acting’s not so great and the message is overdone” — and they are only going to reach a faith audience. By contrast, says Krauss, “I set out to make a film about life that was realistic. People get into bad situations, and then their faith shows up.”
— Anne Morse is a senior writer for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.