Why You Should See “Gimme Shelter” and Ignore the Critics Shouting “Agenda!”

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at the animosity – not just criticism, but animosity – directed at “Gimme Shelter” by secular movie critics, but I am disappointed.

If you missed my earlier piece about the film, “Gimme Shelter” tells the story of Agnes “Apple” Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens), a 16-year-old homeless, pregnant teen trying to escape the grip of her abusive, drug-addicted mother. She eventually finds help and healing in a shelter run by Kathy DiFiore (Ann Dowd). The movie was inspired by the real-life stories of several girls that writer-director Ronald Krauss met while living in DiFiore’s shelter, also an actual facility.

Having been underwhelmed by several so-called “Christian films” in the past, I feel this is the first I’ve seen that isn’t trying to be a propaganda piece for the faith. For that matter, I wouldn’t call it a “Christian film” or a “pro life film” or a “message movie” at all.

Flannery O’Connor once said that if there’s no other way to say something, just tell the story. That’s how I feel about “Gimme Shelter.” It’s simply a compelling story with three-dimensional characters who are grounded in both truth and fact. And since faith plays a vital role in DiFiore’s life and work, it is part of the story as well.

To critics saying the movie has a political agenda because the shelter in the movie features a picture of founder Kathy DiFiore with Ronald Reagan, I quote MASH’s Colonel Potter and say, “Buffalo Bagels!” The picture isn’t there as a message; it’s there because the movie was shot at the shelter and DiFiore met President Reagan because of her work.

The Chinese restaurant I frequent for take-out features a picture of the owner with Bill Clinton. Do I think this is propaganda to get me to vote Democrat? No! It’s simply a picture of the owner with the President of the United States. Most people consider that an honor and want to share it, regardless of their political affiliations.

Another criticism is that the film is too steeped in religion and religious imagery. Well, faith is an integral part of DiFiore’s work and life at the shelter, just as it is for millions of Americans who do things like go to church and pray and have holy pictures in their homes. Critics who find the mere presence of these things offensive reveal more about their own bigotries than they do about the movie they’re reviewing.

Not to harp on my local Chinese restaurant, but they also have a small Buddha statue. Seeing this as a Christian doesn’t give me the vapors and make me feel proselytized. It’s a representation of the owner’s faith and I respect that and take it for what it is.

I find it interesting that none of the negative reviews I’ve read present even the slightest admiration for DiFiore’s real-life work sheltering young women and their babies for over 30 years and setting them on a course to become good parents and productive members of society. DiFiore has done more good for the world than every politician, Republican or Democrat, in Washington, D.C. Again, for that to not even be acknowledged by movie critics betrays a deep-seated agenda, far more obvious than anything in “Gimme Shelter.”

So if you’re going to the movies this weekend, please consider throwing your support to “Gimme Shelter.” At its heart, it’s a story that highlights the inherent dignity of all people, no matter what troubles they’re steeped in. And it’s a story that will have you leaving the theater with a little more love, compassion and understanding in your heart.

About Tony Rossi

After graduating from St. John's University in New York with degrees in Communications and English, Tony Rossi found a job at the Catholic media organization, The Christophers, that allowed him to indulge his interest in religion, media, and pop culture. He served as The Christophers' TV producer for 11 years, and is currently the host and producer of the organization's radio show/podcast Christopher Closeup, writer and editor of their syndicated Light One Candle column, and producer/scriptwriter of the annual Christopher Awards ceremony.

  • Timothy

    I wholeheartedly agree!

    There were a couple of scenes in the middle that seemed to be solely for the purpose of exposition (and felt a little stilted), but compared to the usual fare of “Christian films” and message movies, this film succeeded where they failed: it told a worthwhile story and told it well.

    There was never a “preachy” moment. Only solid characters behaving exactly as those characters would be expected to behave.

    Go see this movie, gentle reader, and go see it this weekend. Let’s give it a big opening. You’ll be glad you did.


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