Even Christian music can't redeem Maple Palm
By Robert Duncan
A tacky gay-rights flick to make Ed Wood proud features the voice and music of a Christian singer – a singer who for years served on worship teams at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church.
But even the Christian music angle can't redeem this film's soft-porn touch: One film poster show's a bird's eye view of two naked women embracing in a bathtub. The film's trailer shows multiple scenes of lesbian love and clichéd moments, such as the now overly ripe scene of lovers eating grapes together. According to the story-line Maple Palm is about a lesbian couple of fifteen years who have been living with the secret that one of them is an undocumented immigrant. "After visiting the Statue of Liberty, the girls return home to Los Angeles, unaware that a routine security check at the icon of freedom was about to strip them of their own."
The producers of Maple Palm – which was filmed in just two weeks - admit that they are playing the religion card, describing the film's soundtrack that features Rebecca Hansen and Katy J as "an edgy, eclectic mix of Christian music and alternative rock." Reads one press statement, "Rebecca, a devout Christian known for religious ballads, is excited to see her music featured in a lesbian love story where her lyrics take on a profound duality in meaning."
"I get angry at discrimination. Maybe part of that was being raised by a father who was a bigot," says Hansen, a divorced mother of two young adults. "All people have the right to get married – white, gay, Hispanic or black," she says, adding that while she isn't gay she is "a liberal Christian."
The film's producers say their film highlights the immigration discrimination that affects "nearly 100,000 same-sex partners." The film is set to open Nov. 10 in Los Angeles in limited theatres, although a sneak preview was planned for Oct. 27.
"From what we have seen of the film, it is a cry for victim status," says Kiera McCaffrey, spokeswoman for the Catholic League. Movies like this take marriage out of context, "until even recently marriage wasn't even about love," McCaffrey adds.
Regarding the quality of the independent film, McCaffrey notes that "these sort of films aren't even counter-culture now. If anybody is counter-culture these days, it's us at the Catholic League."
But self-published Christian songwriter Hansen has no qualms regarding her participation in a film that some people are calling Brokeback Hooters. In fact, Hansen even considered playing the lead lesbian role, but in the end turned the offer down since "I do music videos, but I am not an actress."
In the end, the lead role went to Deborah Stewart, who besides trying to break into the filming industry credits her Masters Degree in Spiritual Psychology as "enabling her to better express the human condition."
According to Hansen's biography at CDBaby, she was a featured soloist and worship leader for over 15 years at the Saddleback Church pastored by Rick Warren, the author of best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life.
"Rebecca Hansen was a member of the worship team at Saddleback Church for seven years," reads in part a statement sent by Kathy Chapman Sharpe, Director of Communications for Saddleback Church/Purpose Driven Network, adding that Hansen "never served in leadership. She has not been part of the Saddleback Church community for more than three years."
That statement is "not exactly correct," says Hansen. "I was on the stage singing as part of the worship teams. I have ministered to many people." She adds, "That quote hurts."
Hansen says that while going through a divorce she felt it was necessary to not be on the "center stage" at Saddleback. For roughly three years Hansen says she attended a different church – only coming back to Saddleback a year ago, to be involved in Celebrate Recovery, a smaller venue on Friday nights that uses a 12-step system "with God and Christ aimed at helping people recover from anything" they might be suffering from.
Given that Hansen made contact with the Maple Palm filmmakers during the three-year period when she had stopped going to Saddleback, she says she doesn't think anybody at the church "even knew what I was doing."
The rest of the Saddleback statement mentions the Celebrate Recovery program - although it fails to note Hansen helps out at that service.
"The Bible very clearly says that homosexual behavior is a sin, and Saddleback Church does not condone any behavior the Bible calls sinful," reads the Saddleback statement, adding "We refuse to be judgmental about sin, and believe the good news of the Gospel is that God sent Jesus to set us free from the hurts, habits, and hang ups that keep us from living out the purposes for which we were created."
The statement continues: "So, even as we believe that God has a definite standard of moral living, we also believe that God, first and foremost, loves all people. Therefore, people of all backgrounds, including those with a homosexual orientation, are welcome to participate in the church's outreach ministries, such as the HIV/AIDS Initiative and Celebrate Recovery."
When talking to Hansen, one has the feeling that she is naïve with respect to the producer's ultimate aims. "They saw my video and fell in love with my music," says Hansen, adding that the producers said her lyrics were "everything" that they were trying to say. In turn, Hansen says after getting to know the producers she "fell in love with them … and their story."
An item posted at MySpace explains that "part of the vision for Maple Palm was to reclaim imagery and symbolism hijacked by those who assert proprietorship over all that's patriotic or wholesome."
That same article notes that Hansen's "self-released album, Walk With Me, features many tracks that are essentially love songs to God, yet when played within the context of Maple Palm, the lyrics take on a profound duality in meaning and infuse the plot with intimacy yet circumvent an often bitter ideological divide by depicting a universal story about the human spirit."
To a certain extant Hansen agrees. She says that her music isn't overtly Christian – something that she says in the past has brought criticism from people in Christian circles.
"I like to write about love," Hansen says, adding that she has no problem with crossover music, or music that has both a Christian and secular audience. As an example, Hansen says her song "With Your Love," is just "about relationships" (see lyrics below).
On the Maple Palm soundtrack, Hansen has four songs, three of which are from her previous Christian Country CD "With Your Love," and a fourth being an original tune that she plans to publish on an upcoming CD that she is self-publishing on her Bobjohn Music Co record label.
Hansen, who was raised a Catholic before converting to the Protestant faith that eventually led her to the Saddleback mega-church, says "I'm excited to see my music featured in a movie that fights discrimination."
Robert J. Feldman, one of the film's producers and co-stars, complains that "if an American falls in love with a foreigner of the same-sex, there's no legal basis for the couple to stay together."
"The film also raises a notion completely unheard of by most Americans - that some U.S. born citizens have to flee their homeland to find true freedom elsewhere in the world; and not because they don't love this country, but because this country doesn't love them," says Feldman, who has to his credits a bit part in a 1989 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
For Maple Palm, Feldman has teamed again with director Ralph Torjan. Their previous effort, Carlos Castaneda: Enigma of a Sorcerer, was described by one reviewer as "a jumbled treatment of the mysterious, reclusive ‘New Age guru' that is short on facts and long on speculation" with "cheezy Public-Access quality visual effects" resulting in an "intentional satire of what people consider to be stereotypically "New Age" could not possibly have resulted in a more exaggerated parody … "
"Maple Palm" producers also have expressed their disappointment with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's lack of support for same-sex marriage rights, "which in turn trumps same-sex immigration rights," noting they would have expected more from a first generation immigrant.
The vast majority of Americans are in favor of traditional marriage, says McCaffrey at the Catholic League. The divergence between what people might say in surveys and their actual voting record suggests that some people feel pressured to say they are in favour of same-sex marriage out of fear of being labelled as bigots, McCaffrey explains.
The filmmakers are unabashed that they are trying to draw on the controversy surrounding the marketing success of last year's Brokeback Mountain.
"We should be so lucky, but the fact of the matter is, while most straight guys are disgusted by fags, the thought of two girls kissing always sends a tingle to their crotch," Torjan has said.
But even then Hansen isn't willing to separate herself from the film. "I wouldn't be that graphic, and this isn't trying to be judgemental, but I imagine that he was just trying to say is that in the world it is more accepting to see two women together."
"I'm not promoting any one lifestyle. My message would be why don't we just love one another," says Hansen, while admitting that she's never read any of the film's press releases.
"Will I be criticised for this film? Yes, I will," she acknowledges.
Robert Duncan is a journalist and ombudsman for foreign press in Spain. He is a board member and honorary vice-president for the Organización de Periodismo y Comunicación Ibero-Americana. Robert was the bureau chief for an international news agency in Madrid for many years, and was published regularly in Dow Jones Newswires, with articles appearing in The Wall Street Journal. He has also been published in World Catholic News, National Catholic Register, Renew America, Lifesite.net, as well as Capital Hill Coffee House, Common Conservative, The Conservative Voice, Enter Stage Right, News By Us, Conservative Crusader, World Net Daily, Mens News Daily and others. He is News Editor for Spero News, blogs at Pelican Press, and maintains the Santificarnos website.