It’s always tricky to make a movie about religion without angering anyone, even if the film is intended as reverent and respectful. Note the scene in the recent Hail, Caesar! during which a beleaguered Josh Brolin tactfully consults an interfaith panel about the pious biblical epic his studio is making. When a proudly irreverent filmmaker like New Jersey’s Kevin Smith makes a movie about religion, complete with a profanity-heavy script and plenty of jokes about sex and drugs, controversy is bound to ensue. That’s what happened in 1999, when the writer-director unleashed Dogma, his satirical tale of two fallen angels (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) trying to scam their way back into Heaven via an obscure doctrinal loophole. The movie attracted the ire of the Catholic League, who labeled it blasphemous, and inspired protests and even a few scattered death threats. Smith, apparently amused that anyone was taking his comedy so seriously, decided to join one underwhelming demonstration outside a theater in his own home state. Luckily, local cable channel News 12 New Jersey (“Around New Jersey. Around the clock.”) was there to cover the whole thing. A clip of this broadcast recently resurfaced on YouTube.
On November 12, 1999, News 12 took its cameras to Eatontown, NJ, where a couple dozen disgruntled Catholics held up signs and recited Hail Marys outside a theater showing Dogma. The event was supposed to have attracted hundreds of protesters, but New Jersey’s faithful must have had better things to do that night. Among the sign-waving attendees was Smith himself, making absolutely not the slightest effort to disguise his appearance or voice. He doesn’t actually wear a backwards ball cap, but that’s the extent of his cosplay. “I don’t think [Dogma] stands for anything positive,” a straight-faced Smith tells reporter Caroline Shively, who now works for Fox News. The dud demonstration does not seem to have affected the film’s box office take, at least not that night. “It just makes me want to see it more, actually, if there’s controversy,” says one grinning Dogma attendee.