Don't take Hollywood's word for how it was

I saw the movie “Inherit the Wind” and I did not realize the Scopes trial was like that.  How accurate was that movie?

I cannot express how strongly I feel about this terrible film.  I will start with Webster’s Dictionary definition of propaganda: “any systematic, widespread deliberate indoctrination ... often used in a derogatory sense, connoting deception and distortion.”

The movie, “Inherit the Wind” aired on NBC Sunday night is an excellent example of propaganda.  Ironically a teaser for the movie shouts,  “Truth will overcome!”  The movie, however, is a deliberate attempt to distort the truth to make Christians and Southerners look ignorant and uninformed.  Don’t take my word for it.  I have the actual transcripts of the Scopes trial and you are welcome to examine them for yourself.

The play, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, was a fictionalized depiction of the famous “Scopes monkey trial.”  The play was made into a movie in 1960 starring Spencer Tracy, Frederic March and Gene Kelly.  The latest remake that you saw  now stars Jack Lemmon, George C. Scott and Beau Bridges.  

The Scopes trial took place in 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee.  Former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan was the prosecutor.  Clarence Darrow, hired by the newly-formed American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), defended John Thomas Scopes.  Scopes was accused of teaching evolution in a high school and thus violating a Tennessee law (the Butler Act).

The writers use the excuse of artistic liberty not just to alter the facts, but to change them completely and promote the idea that both Christians and Southerners are ignorant, religious zealots.  This is nothing more than propaganda and rewriting history.  Following are only a few examples of the facts verses the movie:

(The movie uses fictitious names for Darrow, Bryan and Scopes.  Henry Drummond in the movie is based on Clarence Darrow.  Colonel Brady in the movie is based on William Jennings Bryan.  Bert Cates in the movie is based on John Scopes.  For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to them as Darrow, Bryan and Scopes.)

The Movie:  It begins with three gentleman marching through the streets of Dayton and they end up in the classroom of John Scopes, in the middle of teaching evolution.  He is handcuffed and taken to jail.

The Facts:  Scopes received his bachelor’s degree in law, not biology.  He was a substitute biology teacher for only a short time in a Dayton high school.  Local businessman, George Rappleyea, responded to a newspaper advertisement by the ACLU to challenge the Tennessee law.  He persuaded Scopes to accept the ACLU offer.  Scopes admitted that he wasn’t even sure he had taught evolution.  Scopes never spent any time in jail and was never in danger of imprisonment; the maximum penalty for violation of the Butler Act was a $500 fine.

The Movie:  Reverend Jeremiah Brown, spiritual leader in the community, is depicted as a mean-spirited, ignorant and boisterous maniac who preaches hell-fire and brimstone at every chance.  At one point during a conversation with his daughter, he condemns her to hell for not refuting evolution, then goes into a fanatical frenzy of prayer and sobbing.

The Facts:  He never existed!  There is no record of anyone acting this way.

The Movie:  As Darrow enters town, he walks through the streets only to be stopped by a resident with a deep Southern accent who proceeds to tell him he’s going to hell and abuses him verbally.

The Facts:  In a quote from the seventh day of the trial, Darrow said he was never treated so kind in a city where his views were so opposed.  He commented that he was treated “better, kindlier and more hospitably than I fancied would have been the case in the north”(trial transcripts, pp. 225-226).

This film deserves to be exposed some more.  Next week I will give more examples of how the movie twists the truth. 

As Christians, we should be appalled to see history rewritten in this way all under the guise of artistic expression.  Moreover, we should be appalled at the depiction of Bible-believing Christians as uncouth and simple-minded.  Scripture is clear in Ephesians 5:11 that we are to “expose dangerous deeds of darkness” that defame and misrepresent the veracity of Christianity and the Bible. In John 15:18 Jesus says,  “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.”  Thus, this film and play, is essentially an attack on our Lord and Savior.  Why are we not more upset about this?  Why does NBC, Showtime and Blockbuster feel like they can market such hate-mongering against Christians?  Is it perhaps because we have become lukewarm or is it because we are uninformed or is it because we have bought the lie ourselves or is it because we are simply apathetic?

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©Tom Carpenter
Originally published in the Rockdale/Newton Citizen