Hollywood Gothique
LA Cinema Gothique

Black Christmas Bashing

Staci Wilson at About.Horror frets here about the “religious right…condeming the upcomign horror film BLACK CHRISTMAS.”

I’m sort of on Staci’s side, to the extent that I’m seldom if ever happy to see people get on their soap box and grab some free publicity by denouncing a film they haven’t seen yet.

Yet Ms. Wilson goes off the deep end in a couple ways.

First, she characterizes the protestors as the “religious right” without offering any evidence to support that characterization. (Presumably, the very fact that they object to the movie BLACK CHRISTMAS is enough to earn them the designation.)

Second, she insists, somewhat absurdly that Christmas “isn’t exactly a ‘holy day'” and offers a link to inform readers of December 25’s Pagan origins.

This is just six ways of silly – so ridiculous it’s hard to fathom how someone could advance the argument with a straight face. Yes, the early Christians chose the date of an old Pagan holiday to celebrate Christmas, but so what?* The Pagan origins, for good or bad, have been completely eclipsed.

To cite just one example, a year or two ago, some Christian politicians s started referring to Christmas trees as “Holiday Trees,” hoping that dropping the Chrisitan designation would make it easier to retain the trees as part of holiday celebrations on government property without raising any questions about separation of Church and State. I remember seeing one incredulous rabbi interviewed on television, pointing out that everyone knows they’re really Christmas trees. In other words, the Christian connotations of the holiday are clear to everyone, even non-Christians, and even when the symbol in question – a tree – is not particularly Christian.

Wilson’s little screed succumbs to the typically wrong-headed thinking one often sees when issues of this sort arise: the idea that people with grievances – real or imagined – should just shut up and take it. It’s really not that hard to understand why a devout Christian (not necessarily a member of the religious right) would find the idea of BLACK CHRISTMAS offensive, and it certainly does not hurt the public discourse for such people to express their objections (short of calling for censorship).

If the shoe were on the other foot – that is, if this were a film using Jewish or Muslim iconography as a excuse for slasher-movie violence – you can bet we would hear an uproar, and you can bet it would fall on sympathetic ears. But most likely, no one would have the nerve to make such a film, for fear of the outrage it would engender. (Well, no, I take that back – Mel Gibson did make THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, which some considered anti-Semetic.)

So let the protestors protest all they want. Calls for a boycott are not going to hurt the film’s box; if anything, they will generate publicity that may help the film’s financial fortunes. But would it really hurt so much to admit that…yes, maybe – just maybe – there are some understandable reasons for the devout to object to the film, and even if we don’t agree with them, we should afford some level of respect to other people’s cherished beliefs?

Update: Not that it matters (we were talking about matters of principle above, not aesthetics), but IndieLONDON has a review of the film here. Among other things they call it “a crass remake,” “a seasonal turkey,” and “a lousy rehash.”

Also of Note: One of the people objecting to BLACK CHRISTMAS – specifically, to MGM and the Weinstein Company’s decision to open the film on December 25 – is Nikki Finke (here), who writes for the LA Weekly – an alternative paper that conservative crime writer James Ellroy once dismissed as a “lefty rag.” In other words, she’s not easy to peg as part of the “religious right.”

*Update 2023: Actually, it is not clear that early Christians chose the date of a pagan holiday for Christmas. They definitely seem to have had their sights set on the Winter Solstice because they considered it cosmically significant, not because of any Roman holiday. Saturnalia, which occurred around on dates ranging from December 17 to 25 depending on how the calendar fell, has little in common with Christmas, which was celebrated as a separate holiday by Romans of the time (just as nowadays New Years Day is separate from Christmas even though they take place close together).┬áSome people also cite the celebration of Sol Invictus on December 25 as a pagan precursor to Christmas, even though there is no historical record of the holiday until hundreds of years after Christmas. In any case, modern Christmas traditions date back a couple hundreds years – a time long after pagan Roman pagan traditions had died out, so there so there was little chance for them to influence Christmas as it is known today. It is worth noting that the notion of the pagan origins of Christmas started as an argument among early Christians: the Eastern Orthodox Church, which then as now celebrated Christmas on June 6, accused the Roman Christians of picking the wrong day in order to align with a pagan holiday – basically a way of slandering the Romans as not being true Christians.