Those who in 1988 called for a boycott of the controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ say that studio executives who are hoping for a similar box office-boosting outcry against a new movie will be disappointed.

The film in question is Cinecom Entertainment’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a futuristic view of America after religious fundamentalists have taken control. In the story, based on a novel by Margaret Atwood, fundamentalists have imposed a repressive set of moralistic laws, with mandatory hangings for abortion and other infractions. Fertile “handmaids” are forced to bear children for the barren religious elite.

Several prochoice groups have actively promoted the movie. A Planned Parenthood media release called it the “ultimate statement on reproductive freedom,” and said it should be considered “a cautionary tale” of what could happen in a society “governed by right-wing religious fundamentalists.” The prochoice Hollywood Policy Center and several members of Congress sponsored a $500-a-ticket gala première in Washington last month to benefit the center’s lobbying activities.

Along with prochoice promotion, the studio was apparently hoping for religious protests to increase box-office sales. Several religious organizations that were active in the fight against The Last Temptation say they received advance copies of the film with no return addresses, as well as mysterious phone calls from people who refused to identify themselves but urged action against the movie. Several groups were anonymously invited to prescreenings.

Don Wildmon, president of the American Family Association (AFA), alleged a studio “setup” to get free publicity. He said the AFA is not planning a fight. “I really think the wisest thing we can do is to inform our people about it, but not make a big to-do,” he said, adding that this movie is different from The Last Temptation because it is “about Christians, not necessarily the life of Christ.”

“[The Handmaid’s Tale] is simply one more in a continuation of Hollywood’s vicious anti-Christian bigotry,” Wildmon said. He stood by the Last Temptation boycott, however, claiming it forced a final studio loss of $14,328,000.

The National Association of Evangelicals’ Forest Montgomery said his group will not take action against the movie either. “I think the best way for all believers to handle a boring, pathetic flick depicting oppression, sex, and violence with an offensive religious twist is just to ignore it,” he said. “We don’t see any reason to salvage a turkey.”

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