‘Priest’ foes pass over Miramax, boycott Disney

The Catholic group that slammed the Walt Disney Co. and subsidiary Miramax Films for planning to release “Priest” on Good Friday is staging a nationwide boycott of Disney products and a call to flood Disney’s phone lines with complaints.

“This is not something that might happen, rather it is something that is already under way,” said William A. Donohue, president of the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

The Catholic League was joined in the boycott call by a Christian group claiming to be the largest pro-life organization in the country with 300,000 supporters. That group, the Stafford, Va.-based American Life League, issued a statement Tuesday calling the Antonia Bird-directed film “blasphemous,” “smut” and “sacrilegious.” American Life League president Judie Brown also “demands” that Disney withdraw the film from distribution and that Disney president and CEO Michael Eisner “be fired.”

The call for a boycott comes on the heels of the film’s wide release date change: from April 14 – Good Friday – to April 19 in response to the Catholic League’s complaints.

The film, a sharp-edged examination of the priesthood that features actor Linus Roache as a young cleric coming to terms with his homosexuality, already is on screens in New York and Los Angeles.

“Priest” has received critical kudos at the Toronto, Berlin and Sundance films fests.

Perhaps because Miramax’s reputation was practically built on controversial arthouse fare, the Christian groups are targeting the more image-sensitive Disney in efforts to squelch the movie. Although Disney and Miramax execs maintain that the indie distrib operates on an autonomous basis, the anti-“Priest” factions clearly are hoping to pit Disney’s family image against the controversial film. Donohue said he spoke to John Dreyer, Disney’s VP of corporate communications, and was told “that Disney would take absolutely no responsibility for the Miramax-released movie.”

Disney had no futher comment on the boycott.

But in response to his conversation with Dreyer, Donohue said the League is “calling for a boycott of all Disney products, a boycott of vacations to Disney World and Disneyland and a boycott of the Disney cable television channel.” The League also is asking Catholic organizations to sell any Disney stock it may have.

The League statement also asks “the public to call Disney and tie up the lines by making a complaint.” Donohue claimed, “Disney has already disabled one of its phone numbers due to the public’s response.” The May issue of the League’s journal Catalyst includes postcards of “outrage” to send to Disney.