Conservative Christian groups across the country are protesting a film about the life of sex researcher Alfred C. Kinsey, calling it a Hollywood whitewash of the man they hold largely responsible for the sexual revolution and a panoply of related ills, from high divorce rates to AIDS and child abuse.
Wary that too visible a controversy could help the film at the box office, most of the groups are not calling for a boycott or picketing outside theaters in Washington and a dozen other cities where "Kinsey," starring Liam Neeson in the title role, opened on Friday.
Models in a lobby display at the Standard Hotel in Los Angeles recreate a Kinsey moment Thursday.
(Jim Ruymen -- Reuters)
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Instead, such groups as Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America are using more subtle, highbrow tactics against the third Hollywood release in a year that has instantly become a cultural dividing line, after Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11."
"For those who think of people of faith as poor, uneducated and easy to command, I'm sure it would be amusing to see people praying outside of theaters," said Focus on the Family spokeswoman Kristi Hamrick. "But we want to have a serious intellectual conversation about who Kinsey was and what he did."
Robert Knight, director of the conservative Culture and Family Institute in Washington, said evangelical Christian and Roman Catholic groups also want to bring to bear the political clout they demonstrated in the presidential election.
"Just as Reagan was not content to contain communism but announced a rollback, pro-family organizations are not content to protest the latest outrage anymore, but will seek legislation and will punish sponsors of lewd entertainment," he said.
Knight acknowledged, however, that some opponents of the Kinsey film may be reluctant to try to punish its distributor, Fox Searchlight, owned by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
"Fox has a schizophrenic personality. Conservatives appreciate Fox news channel for bringing balance, but the Fox entertainment network, on the other hand, has clearly been the leader in driving TV into the sewer with its non-stop sexual emphasis," he said.
Focus on the Family, the Colorado-based broadcasting empire of psychologist James Dobson, has been working for nearly two years -- ever since it learned that director Bill Condon was planning to make the film -- to enlist scholars outside the evangelical Christian community to help "debunk" Kinsey's research, Hamrick said.
Prominent among them is Judith Reisman, author of the 1991 book "Kinsey, Sex and Fraud." Citing her work, Concerned Women for America, the nation's largest women's group, has encouraged its members to go to theaters and politely hand out leaflets that accuse Kinsey, who died in 1956, of committing child sexual abuse as well as scientific fraud.
Kinsey was a "massive criminal" who cooked his statistical data and based many of his purported findings on interviews with convicted sex offenders, Reisman said in an interview.
"He found pedophiles all over the country, sought them out and encouraged them to engage in sex with children and report on it to him," she said.
Reisman noted that she had seen only the first 15 minutes of the film because the producers cut off a private screening in Los Angeles as soon as they learned she was in the audience. But she said she closely followed the movie's filming and was certain it was "a coverup."
"The film effectively treats Kinsey as a tragic hero, a scientist -- a wacko scientist, perhaps, but a scientist. Kinsey was never a scientist," she said. "He was a change agent -- the most significant agent of change in American cultural life in the 20th century. The consequences of this sexual adventurism include AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, child sexual abuse, incest and pornography."
On the other side of the cultural barricades, the film's promoters have lined up an array of opposing experts. Jennifer Bass, a spokeswoman for the institute that Kinsey founded at Indiana University, said it is true that he interviewed prisoners and prostitutes.
But he and his collaborators "also spoke to women's garden clubs and parent-teacher organizations, church groups, nurses' groups, the Salvation Army staff and travelers on trains" -- about 18,000 subjects in all from 1938 to 1963, she said.
Biographer James H. Jones, whose "Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life" was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1998, said that "in his eagerness to learn everything he could about human sexuality, Kinsey was a vacuum cleaner, and he had absolutely no standards about censorship or passing moral judgment."
There is no denying, he added, that Kinsey's samples were imperfect. But the Harvard-trained entomologist was "a rigorous scientist to his fingertips," and there is no evidence that he was a pedophile or that he knowingly cooked his books, Jones said.
"I do see him as a principal architect of the sexual revolution," Jones said. "But as a historian, I also know that it is silly to put all of this at his door. The times were changing, but Kinsey also helped to change the times."