Christmas season has just passed, and it taught us a great lesson about freedom. In the midst of new Netflix holiday productions filled with ugly sweaters and cheesy romances, a Brazilian YouTube comedy group, Porta dos Fundos (Back Door) offered something completely new: a gay Jesus center stage at the biblical party for the ages.
First Temptation of Christ is a raunchy, blasphemous, and completely irreverent take on Jesus’ 30th surprise birthday party and the revelation that he is the son of God. Straight out of the desert after 40 days, Jesus comes home with his new fabulously flamboyant “friend” Orlando just in time to be surprised by his colorful family and friends. Gay Jesus is tame as the action ramps up and we meet a pot smoking Mary, his sexually charged Uncle who is actually God, a very jealous Joseph, three wild Wisemen, and a hooker.
As disrespectful and repugnant as these portrayals of the Holy Family are to Christians, no religions were spared from Porta dos Fundos’ taunting. The comedy troupe also made a mockery of Shiva, Buddha, Rastafarian Jah, and Xenu the god of Scientology—thereby, bringing together people of many different faiths this holiday season over a shared ire for the film.
As First Temptation of Christ is obviously a pure mockery of Christians and religion in general, it was received with major public disapproval in Brazil, a country heavily influenced by Catholicism, as well as in other countries where the majority of people share the Judeo-Christian faith. The real gag of this criticism is that, even in light of God trying to seduce a maybe-not-so-Virgin Mary, the part of the movie that enraged millions was Jesus being gay.
Only days after its release, more than 2 million people signed an online petition to ban Netflix’s comedy portraying a homosexual Jesus. In addition, petitioners demanded that the Brazilian comedy troupe be legally charged for the crime of villainous faith and force a public retraction of the film. Brazilian Christians argued that although Brazil does have freedom of speech, the country also criminalizes religious mockery. One of the petitioners identified as Marcos Lucena wrote on the petition: “It is a clear, direct, and intentional offense to Christianity. This is not just art; it is a vile attack, a public declaration of hatred.”
The Brazilian reaction to the film was so astoundingly negative that a Netflix representative in Brazil was invited by the Brazilian Congress to provide clarification about the film. Another consequence arising out of the Netflix parody is a lawsuit filed by a religious association, Centro Dom Bosco, against Netflix and Porta dos Fundos. This association is demanding a reparation of R$2,000,000 (around US$500,000) for, as they allege, the moral offense that was carried out against the Brazilian Christian population.
After the serious backlash in Brazil regarding First Temptation of Christ, Porta dos Fundos released a public statement saying that, “they value artistic freedom and humor through satire on the most diverse cultural themes of our society and believe that freedom of expression is an essential construction for a democratic country.” Netflix has not yet said anything regarding the production of the film or if it is going to stop streaming the controversial 46-minute parody.
As indelicate as it is, blasphemy still falls under free speech.
The case has had huge repercussions worldwide due to its content being extremely offensive to Christians. Although many Netflix customers, who are also Christians, absolutely loathed the film, some came out in defense of free speech, arguing that even though the film is utterly vulgar and blasphemous, Netflix and Porta dos Fundos should not be legally forbidden to produce such content, because that would characterize censorship and go directly against freedom of speech.
The First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech as a principle applicable to everyone, but it is also expressly granted by the Brazilian Constitution under Article 5, Item IV. For those who might have felt deeply offended by this film and started advocating for governmental censorship, they might not have realized that it constitutes an even bigger immorality than this film for Christians to dictate unilaterally what one can or cannot watch on Netflix or on any other streaming service.
So as repugnant, vulgar, revolting, vile, and blasphemous as First Temptation of Christ may be, it still constitutes nothing but a very indelicate mockery mostly against Christianity. Despite being extremely disrespectful and insulting to Christians, the action of producing a film that goes against someone’s faith or religion should not be a legally reprehensible offense based on one simple principle: the separation of church and state. It is safe to say that as we have evolved socially, few would choose to go back to a time like when Martin Luther was persecuted for his 95 theses (which gave rise to a religious reformation).
Vote with your dollars.
Certainly, as an individual you do not have the moral legitimacy to control what people should or should not watch on a streaming service offered by a private enterprise. However, what you can definitely do is vote with your dollars.
In a regular election where you are voting for politicians, your vote as an individual has very little to no significance on the overall results, but in the free market every dollar you voluntarily choose to spend on a product or service offered by a private company has a lot more significance than you can imagine.
Let’s do the math, shall we? According to the news, over 2 million people signed a petition to force Netflix to stop streaming the film. Now imagine if these same 2 million people voted with their dollars, and instead of electing Netflix as their streaming service, they changed to Amazon Prime Video, HBO, Disney+, Hulu, Sling, YouTubeTV, AppleTV, fuboTV, etc. Considering that a Netflix Premium subscription runs about $15.99 a month, that multiplied by 2 million equals $31,980,000.
Now let’s be serious. What measure do you truly believe will get Netflix’s attention faster and make them voluntarily change their mind about producing videos and films that may offend people’s religion—a signed petition that says “I’m offended” or a profit loss that amounts to millions of dollars?
Undoubtedly, in the free market where you vote with your dollars, money and profit will speak louder. Any business that truly values their customers will think twice about producing a film that insults someone’s faith if the backlash causes them a huge profit loss.
Next time you see something that offends you on a personal level, whether it is political or religious content, remember that you have the power to vote with your money in the free market. In a free society you have the choice to not watch it, to unsubscribe from that streaming service, or to simply choose another streaming service that aligns better with your personal beliefs. Correspondingly, private streaming services have the freedom to produce films whose content may offend some people.
If you truly value freedom of speech, the free market, and a free society, the last thing that you should want is for the government to censor a business because its products or services offend you. After all, your decision to ask for censorship constitutes a bigger immorality than whatever silly offensive content a streaming service company may have produced.