“There are movies that are inspiring, uplifting, and encouraging but they have just enough problematic content to keep them out of bounds for people who want to guard their hearts and minds in the body of Christ,” Waliszewski said. “We’re just a scene away…. We could walk out of the movie theater better people if we’re not tripped up by that nudity.”
VidAngel builds its brand mostly among a faith-based audience, the expansive subgroup that popularized recent blockbusters like the God’s Not Dead movies and War Room. Yet, instead of Hollywood settling on a more family-friendly middle ground at the movies, the industry has become polarized over the past decade, with Christian-centered storylines on one end and more explicit R-rated features on the other.
“For 2015-2016, there’s almost been a faith-based film a month that you could see in the theaters. That’s unheard of,” said Waliszewski. “On the other side of the pendulum, some of the worst of the worst has come out over the past few years.”
While evangelical standards can vary from household to household, Waliszewski lists sexual dialogue, sexual situations, nudity, vulgarity, and misuses of Jesus’ name among the most common concerns. The Mormon Church, Cornick notes, instructs youth to “have the courage to walk out of a movie, change your music, or turn off a computer, television, or mobile device if what you see or hear drives away the Spirit.”
Yet, it’s the seemingly family-friendly studios, including Disney, behind the suit.
“The common thread between those who are suing us is they are the movie studios that create more family-friendly content than the others,” said Harmon. “One complaint might be that VidAngel’s service makes a lot more content available to families, and perhaps that doesn’t make Mickey and friends very happy.”
Harmon believes VidAngel filters allow parents to be more engaged with their kids’ inevitable entertainment diet, not less. The parameters are not a “set it and forget it” license for his seven children to watch whatever they want; instead they talk as a family about why they chose to hide certain scenes. They also discuss why certain moviemakers raise artistic concerns about their doing so, he said.
What’s Next for VidAngel
The 50-person company had hoped to restore its video library later this month, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied its request for an emergency stay of the preliminary injunction order that forced VidAngel to suspend service last month.
“We are disappointed by [the] decision, but remain optimistic about our long-term prospects on appeal,” Harmon said in a statement. “Until our appeal is decided, we regret that VidAngel will not be able to offer filtered content. We continue to be grateful for the massive outpouring of support from across the country.”
As VidAngel assured fans on its website: “Remember that we have $10 million in the bank to continue this fight all the way to the Supreme Court. We are very optimistic that we will win the legal battle!”
This year, VidAngel will also begin populating the site with original content offered up by independent filmmakers (since Directors Guild members currently cannot license to them), as well as shows it produces on its own, like a series of family-friendly standup specials and a documentary about its lawsuit.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Disney as the parent company of NBC.