Looking for a Nativity Story controversy …


I can honestly say it never occurred to me to ask any questions about Keisha Castle-Hughes’s pregnancy at the junket for The Nativity Story last weekend. True, on the night of the screening, I did quip to a couple of colleagues that she had been kept away from the junket because the studio had decided to “divorce her quietly“. But for all I know, the decision to skip the junket might have been hers, not the studio’s. And when the producers, the director, the screenwriter, and two of the actors sat down and talked with myself and three other religious-media journalists the next day, in one of the two Grace Hill Media rooms, the subject never came up. We were having too much fun talking about the movie to pay any attention to all that People magazine stuff.

Never fear, though, the secular media are here to pick up the slack. Today’s Vancouver Sun has a story by Jamie Portman of the CanWest News Service, bearing the headline: “Pregnant ‘Mary’ creates a stir among Christians”. The opening paragraph declares:

The producers of The Nativity Story insist they aren’t fearing a religious backlash because of the pregnancy of the 16-year-old actress who portrays the Virgin Mary.

But if you look a little further down, the only description of this backlash doesn’t sound particularly religious at all:

Meanwhile, the pregnancy of its teenage star is generating intense debate on websites. Some of it is abusive, accusing Castle-Hughes of being a poor role model and of dishonoring her Maori heritage at a time when so many young Maori girls in New Zealand are victims of unwanted pregnancies.

Considering you can always find some wackos out there on the internet, it is striking that the one example this reporter can find of “abusive” online debate centres not around any particularly religious question, but rather, on questions of a basically social and cultural, even secular, nature. The story continues:

Producer Marty Bowen confirmed on the weekend that some message boards are extremely hostile.

“Ultimately, people are going to say what they are going to say,” Bowen commented, “Our opinion is that she was really wonderful in the movie and we all grew to love her, even as a person, and also her family. So all we can do is pray for her, love her, support her, and ultimately whatever is going to happen is going to happen. Ultimately we hope people will embrace the movie for its merits.”

Co-producer Wyck Godfrey is not worried because he thinks the worst is over.

“We don’t have any concern about it, only because we’ve already experienced that news coming out, and all of the reactions of the people that we’ve taken the film to has been very positive and embracing and true to the Christian spirit of acceptance and forgiveness and love.

“The thing is that Keisha has got a big journey ahead of her, and all the people that we’ve spoken to, in particular those who have also been a part and some that haven’t been a part of the production, are really praying for her and positive, as opposed to using it as an excuse to denigrate the movie.”

The story also makes this interesting comparison-and-contrast:

In 2005, sections of the religious right condemned another Christian-oriented movie, The End Of The Spear, after it was revealed one of the stars was gay. But Bowen sees no evidence that Castle-Hughes’s pregnancy is triggering a similar reaction.

Godfrey also points out that with the controversy over End Of The Spear, “there was a huge reaction within the Christian community against that backlash — that it was completely inappropriate and bad in people purporting to be Christian.”

For what it’s worth, I can think of a few reasons why the Christian community’s reaction to Castle-Hughes’s pregnancy may be different from its reaction to Chad Allen’s homosexuality.

One, End of the Spear was produced by a Christian company and is part of the emerging “contemporary Christian cinema“, whereas The Nativity Story is essentially a secular production, and thus does not engender the same sorts of expectations within the faith-based audience. Two, pregnancy is the result of heterosexual activity, which, for better or worse, religious audiences are more tolerant of than homosexual activity. Three, Castle-Hughes is a teen, which may incline traditional audiences to be more protective, even parental, towards her; whereas Allen is in his 30s and has been politically active with regard to sexuality issues. And, four, Castle-Hughes did decide to keep the baby.

So the fact that there is no real controversy around the Nativity star’s pregnancy — despite what may be the efforts of some journalists to look for one — doesn’t particularly surprise me.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14807352308804721979 gabriel

    She’s halfway to Mathewes-Green’s ideal. Perhaps she’ll get married before the baby arrives- which would make life imitate art even more uncannily.

    On another note- Calviezel gets hit by lightning while on the cross, Castle-Hughes becomes pregnant. If I were an actor, I’d think twice before taking on the role of Jonah, Stephen or Daniel, among others.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12086339256929829764 Armen

    The preview of the movie Nativity Story is very promising. I am looking forward to it. By the way here is some more extra info from New Line Cinema appearing at


    href=”http://www.huliq.com/recreation/108/the-nativity-story-world-premiere-will-be-hosted-in-vatican”>

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01469622835449220113 Dymphna

    I’ve read a few snarky comments about the pregnancy but they were always overwhelmingly “shouted” down by other commenters. I’m not going to see the movie because it doesn’t look very good so far but Kiesha’s decision to have her baby and not abort it has nothing to do with the movie or it’s merits.

  • Marguerite

    It is unfortunate that this young girl who portrayed the Virgin Mary is/was engaged in pre-marital sex as a child and it would be easy to judge her as I am sure most fundamentalist Christian groups will, but WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? Love her and support her, nothing more – nothing less. I wish the phrase “What would Jesus do?” was applied more often by certain groups of judgemental haters who
    believe they are the “moral majority.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01962790293906799629 Rocket Scientist

    Nobody seems to be saying anything about the fact Keisha’s a minor, under the age of 18, and her boyfriend is 19 years of age. Is there not an issue of statutory rape here? Where are her parents in this?

    I suppose it all depends upon the legal jurisdiction involved. Here in Georgia, USA, 16 is the age of consent, meaning no crime would have occurred if the relationship were consummated on Georgia soil. Nonetheless, as a Christian father who has raised two daughters, and a couple of sons, to adulthood, I have to wonder what kind of relationship Keisha has with her father that she would be trading her chastity looking for some kind of previously-unfulfilled male affirmation.

    On this basis, she certainly deserves our prayers since I’m guessing she likely is not getting much family support. The couple have a very tough road ahead of them, although Keisha’s income as a successful actress will make their lives undoubtedly easier than the typical teenage parents.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07395937367596387523 Peter T Chattaway

    Nobody seems to be saying anything about the fact Keisha’s a minor, under the age of 18 . . .

    FWIW, in my country, the legal age of consent for most sexual activities is 14 (though the current government has proposed to raise it to 16, with exemptions in cases where 14- or 15-year-olds have partners who are less than 5 years older); and in Keisha’s country, New Zealand, the age of consent is 16.


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