Today I went to see I’m Not Ashamed, the motion picture made of Rachel Joy Scott’s short life and tragic death when she was the first person killed during Columbine over sixteen years ago. Well, it’s not really about her whole life. It’s more of a look at her spiritual life during her last year.
[Below: an interview with Masey McLain and Ben Davies, the two actors who starred in the movie.]
Of course, many critics find fault with Christian movies because they aren’t well made or because they are preachy, and there are critics of this film too. One review I read said it exploited a tragedy to get its faith based message across:
To use the senseless death of a school shooting victim to promote one’s warped political agenda is, to use a trendy term, deplorable. One should expect nothing less from the odious low-budget film company Pure Flix . . . Their latest, I’m Not Ashamed, bends the horrible tragedy of the Columbine massacre into a false narrative of Christian martyrdom. (The Guardian)
This and another review read into the film a number of things that simply aren’t there. Here’s one issue:
The movie begins almost immediately with news footage of the shooting (including from the security cameras), with a broadcaster noting: ”What everyone is looking for now is a reason.” Anyone familiar with PureFlix films won’t be surprised that the answer is unambiguously evolution. God’s Not Dead took a whole segment to lecture against its evils; here, Dylan and Eric’s eyes light up when a teacher waves a copy of Mein Kampf in the classroom while lecturing on social Darwinism. Even if it’s true that Harris wore a shirt saying “Natural Selection” the day of the shooting, it’s still a very slippery moral slope to imply that teaching evolution rather than creationism will lead to school shootings. (“The faith-based biopic I’m Not Ashamed blames Columbine on Darwin”)
Since the movie never once mentions evolution, this criticism is an unbelievable stretch that shows the criticism isn’t about this movie at all but about PureFlix and possibly Christianity or at least about perceived Christian beliefs.
At any rate, the negative comments dealt more with what the reviewer thought the movie was saying than with the actual movie. Was it exploiting Columbine to deliver a message? Was it preaching against evolution? Did it have an implied political agenda?
I didn’t see any of that.
Admittedly, at the beginning I was aware of every possible scene or word that could be construed as awkwardly overt or preachy. I also felt a little disappointed because the trailer I’d seen had revealed so much of the opening of the movie.
But somewhere in that first half hour I forgot about critiquing. I forgot I was watching a “Christian” movie. It was the story of one girl’s inner struggle and seemed so familiar, I thought high schoolers today could understand what this girl had felt. That she was struggling to live publicly what she claimed to believe privately, is the story of identity. That she grappled with being genuine, not fake or plastic, while at the same time longing to be accepted and to fit in, is so realistic and identifiable.
Did the movie exploit the school shooting? Not at all. You could take out the few scenes that showed the shooters. You could take out the end, and you’d still have the core of the movie. But Columbine gave context to this girl’s life. The things she struggled with, the decisions she made were magnified because her life ended tragically at such a young age.
Finally, the technical aspects of the film were on a par with your average movies. The acting is spot on—believable, realistic, natural. I particularly liked the two lead actors, Masey McLain and Ben Davies.
I don’t know anything about cinematography, so I can’t comment on that, but one review criticized the sudden jump cuts from one group of students to another. Those were in the movie. But jump cuts are common in today’s film making. Maybe there are rules to make them seem smoother, or something. I don’t know. I honestly wouldn’t have given them a second thought if I hadn’t seem the comment in the review.
What amazed me was how the movie has lingered in my mind. This is one I won’t quickly forget—maybe because it was true, maybe because of Rachel Joy Scott herself, maybe because the story involves spiritual matters. All I can say—I hope it lingers in the minds of the reviewers, too.
[Below: an interview with Rachel Joy Scott’s mother who made this film possible by making her daughters letters and journals available.]