While the upcoming movie based on the life of Billy Graham has been rallying supporters months ahead of its Oct. 10 release, it has also garnered some critics – the most prominent of which is the renowned evangelist’s son.
“The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has not collaborated with nor does it endorse the movie, 'Billy: The Early Years,'” expressed Franklin Graham in a written response as the organization’s CEO last week.
“While the move covers many aspects of my father’s early years, it depicts events that never happened or are greatly embellished,” he added.
According to The Guardian, the film’s producers had been trying to get the blessings of Billy Graham and his family, including son Franklin, who reportedly was not thrilled about not having been shown a script before the movie was made.
Producer Larry Mortorff told the U.K.-based newspaper that copies of the finished film were delivered to Franklin Graham and the family.
"We hope what we've done is pleasing to him (Franklin)," said Mortorff. "It's a homage to his dad."
But according to Franklin’s Aug. 18 statement, the ministry leader is not pleased.
Though he said he has “always appreciated those who painstakingly sought to tell his (Billy Graham’s) story accurately,” Franklin said the content of "Billy: The Early Years" "lacks my father’s greatest passion: to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the world and point men, women, and children to His saving power."
Franklin’s spokesman, Mark DeMoss, further explained how he “felt there was not sufficient treatment of his father preaching.”
“[A]nd when he was preaching, it was watered-down,” DeMoss told The Charlotte Observer.
The upcoming film, which starts with Graham’s teenage years in Charlotte, N.C., tells the story of Graham and his life before international prominence – from the legendary series of revival meetings in Charlotte that ultimately led to Graham’s conversion in 1934 to the early stages of his relationship with Ruth Bell, the woman who Graham would eventually marry.
Starring 21-year-old actor Armie Hammer as the young Billy Graham, the movie attempts to capture the essence of Graham’s journey from a young man at the crossroads of faith and doubt to ultimately facing the moment of decision that gave way to one of history’s most influential evangelists.
Since June, the trailer for the movie has been posted in numerous Christian websites, including the increasingly popular GodTube.com website, which tallied nearly 30,000 viewers of the Graham movie trailer after about a month of exposure.
The producers of “Billy: The Early Years” have also been hoping to generate some buzz in the coming weeks by holding more than 50 advanced screenings for the movie.
The latest buzz, however, is certainly one they would have preferred to do without. And the oldest of Billy Graham’s five children would likely agree.
"I don't want to say anything wrong about my brother, but I just don't see it the way he does," Gigi Graham told Christianity Today. "Franklin called me and said he thought the movie was dorky. But I think it's good and positive, and I think it honors the Lord and my mother and daddy.
"I don't know why Franklin felt like he had to make a public statement. I wish he'd just left it alone."
While Gigi does not dispute some of the inaccuracies in the film, she has praised the movie and also been hired as a consultant to help promote the film.
She also pointed out that while she believes the film does portray her father’s passion for preaching, more important than the passion was the calling.
“I'm not sure Daddy ever had a passion for preaching. Daddy had a calling, and he accepted that calling and faithfully followed it," she told CT.
Furthermore, though DeMoss said Franklin felt the film “completely misrepresented Bob Jones [Sr.]” in the scene where the then-president of fundamentalist Bob Jones College tells young Billy Graham that he will never amount to anything, The Charlotte Observer noted that the scene may not be so off the mark according to Billy Graham’s autobiography, Just As I Am.
“I asked for an interview with Dr. Bob in his office and told him about my discontent and my thoughts of leaving,” Billy Graham wrote in his 1997 autobiography. “His voice booming, he pronounced me a failure and predicted only more failure ahead.”
And regarding the other ”inaccuracies,” Gigi and filmmaker Bill McKay told CT that they felt Franklin was just nitpicking.
"People need to remember that the movie is fiction based on fact," said Gigi, who has seen the movie about 10 times. "Daddy was not at my birth, but who cares?" She said filmmakers were simply injecting some humor into the scene.
"Look," added McKay, "it's a movie, not a documentary. We were just trying to humanize the experience in that scene. But every step of the way, we tried very hard to be faithful to Dr. Graham's story."
In addition to Hammer, who will star as the upcoming Batman/Bruce Wayne in the new film “Justice League: Mortal,” “Billy: The Early Years” features Oscar-winner Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible, Ed Wood) and Lindsay Wagner (The Bionic Woman); as well as Stefanie Butler (CSI: NY), daughter of ex-Atlanta Brave Brett Butler; Kristoffer Polaha (North Shore) and platinum selling country sensation Josh Turner ("Long Black Train") as singer George Beverly Shea. John Carter Cash, son of John and June Carter Cash, serves as music producer and the film’s director is veteran actor/director and Golden Globe nominee Robby Benson, who many know to be the voice of the Beast in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."
“Billy: The Early Years” was filmed in and around Nashville with a 90 percent Tennessee crew, according to the film's promoters.
It is set to release less than a month before Graham’s 90th birthday.