It was a movie destined for failure — relying on crowdfunding for its shoestring budget, garnering little to no attention among liberal media outlets and opening in only 673 theaters around the country.
Still, “Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer” succeeded in its opening weekend at the box office, becoming the No. 12 film release last week. Its $1.16 million in ticket sales placed the film just behind “A Simple Favor” ($1.3 million) and just ahead of “Crazy Rich Asians” ($1 million), according to the Box Office Mojo website.
What’s more, “Gosnell” enjoys a 67 percent “fresh” rating among critics and a 99 percent audience “like” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.
The film, which chronicles the crimes and conviction of abortionist Kermit Gosnell, owes part of its success to its 29,000+ donors in its 2014 Indiegogo.com crowdfunding campaign.
One of those donors is Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
“Our contribution was small, but every little bit helps,” the pro-life Mr. Meadows said via an email exchange. “The key lesson of the movie and the Gosnell story is that we must never look away from evil and never be afraid to see what we see.”
“Gosnell” recalls how a routine drug investigation led to the abortionist’s clinic in Philadelphia. The now-disgraced doctor performed abortions beyond the legal time frame, kept the feet of aborted babies in jars and operated a clinic that bore an unbearable stench.
One investigator in the Gosnell case found aborted baby parts in the clinic’s garbage disposal units.
Convicted on three counts of first-degree murder in 2013, Gosnell, now 77, is serving a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.
Gosnell’s trial and conviction received sparse coverage among mainstream media outlets.
Mr. Meadows quoted Andrew Breitbart, the late conservative media pioneer, as to why he and his family publicly supported the PG-13 film.
“Politics is downstream from culture,” Mr. Meadows said, “and that’s why my wife and I decided to be a part of this.”
“Gosnell” was directed by character actor Nick Searcy, known for his portrayal of Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen in the FX network’s “Justified” series. Mr. Searcy also co-stars in his movie with Dean Cain of the 1990s comic book-based TV series “The Adventures of Lois & Clark.” Veteran character actor Earl Billings (“Antwone Fisher,” “Thank You for Smoking”) portrays Gosnell.
The film’s online campaign secured more than $2.3 million and set a crowdfunding record at Indiegogo.com. The indie comedy “Lazer Tag” later eclipsed it with a $2.4 million haul.
“Gosnell” achieved that figure after a competing service, Kickstarter.com, fought with film producers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney over phrases such as “thousands of babies stabbed to death” in the crowdfunding proffer, saying it didn’t align with the site’s content standards.
But the “Gosnell” team fired back, pointing to far more gratuitous campaigns already on the website and charging ideological bias for the dust-up before joining Indiegogo.com.
The film was released during an administration with unusually strong ties to the pro-life movement. Vice President Mike Pence appeared at last month’s Values Voters Summit, and President Trump became the first commander in chief to grace the annual Campaign for Life gala this year.
“I think President Trump has done an amazing job of highlighting social issues. He and Ronald Reagan are the most pro-life presidents in word and deed,” Mr. Meadows said.
The three-term congressman is less enamored of Hillary Clinton of late, and not for strictly partisan reasons. The former secretary of state’s recent call for uncivil behavior against Republicans offers a bracing reminder of the 2016 election, he said.
“Secretary Clinton has the same right to speak that every American has, and her fellow citizens can exercise their right to tune her out,” he said in his email. “But truth be told, the more she speaks the more it reminds voters how grateful that we all are that Donald Trump was the only thing that stood in the way of her being our president today.”
Mr. Meadows understands the role movies can play in the marketplace of ideas. He isn’t convinced that politically charged celebrities can move the needle where it counts — at the ballot box.
“Voters are smart, and they know to listen to actors when they talk about acting but to be cautious when they weigh in on other matters,” he said. “I think voters are incredibly sophisticated, and they tune out the diatribes of liberal actors and ignore them when they go to the voting booth.”