Ellen Page’s lesbian drama ‘Freeheld’ banned from filming at Catholic school


A few weeks ago, I covered these photos from the set of Freeheld, the new drama about the totally true story of a cop (played by Julianne Moore) dying of cancer, and she wants to leave her death benefits to her partner (played by Ellen Page). This particular story has been told in an Oscar-winning documentary short, but I’m looking forward to this version too, just because… Julianne and Ellen!! YAY! As it turns out, not everyone is happy that this film is being made. Specifically, one Catholic school that refused to allow the film’s production to film within the school.

Freeheld, which is currently filming in the New York area, tells the story of how a lesbian couple fought discrimination more than 10 years ago to extend domestic partner benefits. With same-sex marriage spreading state by state this year, the movie — which stars Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, who is also a producer on the film — might feel like it took place a long time ago.

But Freeheld’s director Peter Sollett, producers, cast, and production staff were recently reminded that while some things have changed for LGBT people, others have not.

In Freeheld — based on Cynthia Wade’s Oscar-winning documentary short from 2007 — Moore plays a New Jersey detective dying of lung cancer who seeks to leave her pension to her partner, played by Page. In one scene, the couple applies for a civil union, and the production needed a building that could pass for a town hall.

Initially, the location scout was told that Salesian High School, a private, all-boys Catholic school in New Rochelle, N.Y., was available for the afternoon the scene was to be filmed. But then higher-up school administrators said no. Michael Shamberg, Freeheld’s producer, told BuzzFeed News that he then appealed to Salesian’s principal, John Flaherty, who told Shamberg to send an email that he could forward to Father John Serio, the school’s president. After doing that, Shamberg never heard back from Serio, and Freeheld shot the scene somewhere else.

“I respect their right to say no,” Shamberg said. “But it’s sad.”

When BuzzFeed News contacted Flaherty by email about the school’s reasoning in not wanting a movie with LGBT content to film there, he wrote: “All are welcomed at Salesian High School. Our School chooses to embrace the social issues such as hunger, homelessness, poverty, and helping the less fortunate.”

When asked in a follow-up email for more specifics, Flaherty responded, “I will let my initial statement stand for itself.”

[From Buzzfeed]

Shamberg is right, it’s the Church’s prerogative to deny certain films the right to film on their property. But it IS sad. If this was a movie about something other than gay marriage or civil unions or equal rights for same-sex partners, I’m guessing the Church would have allowed the film production in.

Ellen chimed in on her Twitter too:


Photos courtesy of Fame/Flynet.

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45 Responses to “Ellen Page’s lesbian drama ‘Freeheld’ banned from filming at Catholic school”

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  1. CTgirl says:

    I’m not Catholic and I have no problems with gay marriage but it was ridiculous of the location scouts to recommend a Catholic school as a filming location considering that denomination’s stance on gay marriage. Did they really expect a different response or where they looking for this response to bolster publicity for their movie?

    • Tulip Garden says:

      …the publicity thing, Final answer!

    • Wilma says:

      I am Catholic and I’m glad our priest is welcoming to all. It does seem to matter where you live.

    • swack says:

      Totally agree. We just had an incident where two female teachers got married in another state, went to buy a house and were asked to leave the school (a prestigious Catholic school in my area) because of it. I am very disheartened because it was the school I graduated from and am so sorry that the school is so closed minded.

    • Esmom says:

      My head is spinning a bit since yesterday a few Catholics were all over the Ariana Grande post proclaiming how NOT anti-gay the denomination is, how they’d grown up learning nothing but love and tolerance for everyone and lamenting that “misconception.” Which didn’t mesh with my own experience, but still.

      I like Ellen’s tweet, supportive and sweet.

      • Charlie says:

        I think it dependes where you grew up,which shouldn’t be the case considering there is only one Catholic Church.
        But did they really expect to be allowed to film there? Really?

      • Leen says:

        Catholics differ from one person to another. I went to a catholic school for 10 years and it was terrible – not very inclusive of others. But right now I’m at a Jesuit school and it’s wonderful – very inclusive. There’s even an LGBT resource center in our student center!

    • holly hobby says:

      Uh huh! It’s like asking for vegetarian food in a meat factory. I’m sorry but we all know what the Catholic Church’s stance on this is. To ask to film at the school is a shameless publicity ploy. Don’t tell me there aren’t any other old buildings, not Church, in the city that can pass for a government building.

      Full disclosure, I support equal rights for all and gay marriage. I do not support this.

    • Stef Leppard says:

      I think I read elsewhere that other movies have been filmed at the school and maybe that’s why it was chosen.

  2. GoodNamesAllTaken says:

    It is sad, and what makes it worse for me is the hardening of the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality since the hoards of child molestation charges came to light. I think they have used gays as a scapegoat, and have tried to appear to be “doing something” about the problem by lessening tolerance for gays. Homosexuality and pedophilia ARE NOT THE SAME THING. So it’s a double insult, and gives ignorant, hateful people even more fuel for their fire.

  3. OriginalTessa says:

    Sorry, but what did they expect? Seems like a cheap publicity stunt.

    • Josefa says:

      This. I’m not justifying them, but come on. Of all films, you decide to shoot the one about a woman dating a lesbian almost half her age in a Catholic school?

  4. serena says:

    I know it’s a really delicate matter but I’ll say my opinion about this.
    It’s sad but also stupid. The pope himself opened up to divorced and same-sex couples.. so wtf are these people doing?
    Now, I don’t know about protestants but really, people, move on. No need to be stucked in 1990!

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      Protestants are divided. My church (Episcopal) is very inclusive. Women can be priests, gays are welcome, etc. More, I guess the word would be “conservative” churches are not inclusive. Of course I disagree with that, and I think it’s unchristian, but that’s me.

      I’m not sure you’re right about the current Pope being open to gays. I just heard something on NPR yesterday that he qualified his “who am I to judge” remark and sort of backed off of it, saying that he meant as long as they practice chastity, but I only caught part of it, so I could be wrong.

    • angela says:

      In the latest synod on families, there was some talk about embracing homosexuals and recognizing the positive aspects of same sex partnerships. I’m not sure if it made it in the final phrasing, but, as it was, it was the equivalent of a massive earthquake.

      • Wilma says:

        No, well, it was there, but sadly the bishops voted against it. Still, can’t hold back the clocks. Churches will have to change in a way.

  5. aenflex says:

    Religion is a HUGE part of the reason bigotry exists. Dunno why Ellen’s tweet made her sound surprised by this. There are plenty of progressive schools in New York and New England, I doubt they had trouble finding an alternate location to film.

    • holly hobby says:

      Because it was a publicity ploy. Pure and simple. The Catholic Church has made their opinion about homosexuality a known fact for years now. I don’t know why they are acting surprised.

    • Anony says:

      Yep, religion divides and divides again. It’s not enough that the differing religions can’t get along (since they all think each other is wrong) the different sects WITHIN that branch can’t even get along (this church puts too much emphasis on Mary, we’re better than them) and so forth and so on. Individual faith is fine but religion is poison to the human race.

  6. Chris says:

    No surprises really. The Bible is pretty clear about its view on homosexuality. I’m not religious and I support people’s right to be gay, but I don’t see how any Christian can say that they can accept homosexuality and still be adhering to the Bible. Personally I think that some Christian denominations have become inclusive towards gay people because they know Christianity and their churches are becoming increasingly irrelevant and they need to do something to stem the tide, even if it means turning their backs on some aspects of their religion. Which begs the question, if you can cherry pick the bits of the Bible you’re going to follow and the bits you’re going to discard, because you know the difference between right and wrong, then why bother with it at all?

    • Knels says:

      Well, the problem with that statement when it comes to Catholicism is that Catholics don’t take the bible literally. 40 days and 40 nights does not literally mean 40 days and 40 nights. And I’m pretty sure we all eat LOTS of tasty crustaceans. We tend to take the general message and leave aside the literary tools. I don’t know what the producers of this film were expecting, but they should have known better than to try and film at a Catholic school.

      If you’re down with Christianity being about excluding people not exactly like you, well, then you’re not, generally speaking, not following in Jesus’ footsteps. He hung out with the sinners, not the saints.

      • Chris says:

        What’s the general message?

      • Charlie says:

        Love and tolerance is the main message. Also, there are a lot of scholars who think that Paul’s words were translated wrong. We discussed it yesterday.

        The Catholic Church adapts. Very slowly, but it does. I’m sure the stance on gay people will change. Maybe not in my lifetime, but it will.

      • Chris says:

        Interesting. I thought the general message of the Bible was do what God says and pray for forgiveness when you fall short, or else you’ll burn in Hell.

    • Virgilia Coriolanus says:

      I actually saw a really good documentary (The Bible Tells Me So)–and I don’t remember the entire argument, but what it was was that the Bible/Christianity was against homosexuality because they didn’t produce children i.e. men/men, women/women can’t get pregnant. And that that was one of the worst things in the Bible–to ‘waste’ life. Especially back in a time when people lived to the land, wars, plagues, etc. I can’t remember their names, but it was in the OT where a man was struck dead because he ‘spilled his seed’ onto the ground, instead of in his wife. I thought it was actually a pretty interesting argument.

      As for the rest–I don’t think believing that being gay is wrong makes you not a Christian, or that some/most of the teachings are wrong. Some people honestly just don’t believe that being gay is wrong. I was taught in church that being gay was wrong, and for quite a few years I tried to make myself believe that–but honestly, I don’t. I don’t care. That doesn’t make my beliefs any worse or better than anyone else’s, imo. And people cherry pick ALL THE TIME. In all religions. It’s their own interpretation. I was recently talking to this guy that I thought was really cute–he’s half Indian, half Iranian……he’s Muslim and he’s and he was basically telling me how he got around the whole ‘waiting until marriage to have sex’….which is like the Catholic version. I didn’t agree with him, but I thought it was interesting.

      • Esmom says:

        Catholics are notorious for “cherry picking.” The term “Cafeteria Catholic” has been around for as long as I can remember, in reference to what tenets they choose to abide by and what to ignore.

    • Betty says:

      I am a Christian and I have long supported the LGBT community. I think you can be a Christian and gay, and you can be a heterosexual Christian who’s an LGBT ally. I don’t think this means one is cherry-picking parts from the Bible. I think many Christians understand that some things written in the Bible were rooted in a cultural context that no longer applies today. These things do not detract from the main tenets of Christianity. Homosexuality is not a focus of Jesus’ ministry and the Bible generally. When it is mentioned in the New Testament, it is mentioned in the same way that issues such as gossip, fornication and adultery are. Even if you look at the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the issue here wasn’t homosexuality specifically but that the town was filled with rapists, murderers, thieves, etc. I could go on, but I don’t think I can really have a debate about this issue in this format.

    • Wilma says:

      The bible is also saying that menstruating women should live in tents outside the cities. Jezus didn’t mention gays at all.

      • Anony says:

        All religions cherry-pick from their religious texts. What’s the point? Why follow these ancient scripts at all? I don’t get it. How about just using one’s morals and empathy as a guide? Am I harming someone? Would it bother me if someone treated me this way or someone I cared about this way? You don’t need religion to be a good person. In fact, I’d argue that the non-religious are better people since you actually have to care about the planet and other people not just say “Well I prayed for them so that’s enough contribution!”

      • Charlie says:

        Actually, just saying “I prayed for them” isn’t enough because faith alone isn’t enough for salvation, you have to work too.
        I would argue that the non-religious are not better people, nor are the religious. Every person is different, and wheter you believe in God or not doesn’t give you a moral highground.

  7. TorontoE says:

    c’mon Catholic Church…get with the times. Besides Jesus had two dads and he turned out great!!

  8. InvaderTak says:

    What exactly did she expect? Come on. Everybody knows the Catholic church’s stance on homosexuality. Why would her movie want to film at that location anyway? Doesn’t production have to pay the locations to use them? Why would they want their production money to go to the Catholic church knowing their stance?

  9. Addison says:

    You would think the scouts were robots if they didn’t think this would be a problem. Come on! Anyone with half a brain should consider there might be issues. It’s like the Game of Thrones people being shocked when a church did not let them film a scene in which I forget who, would be completely nude inside the church. It’s really ridiculous that people are surprised that they are told no. I mean it’s a building associated with a religion!

    • Charlie says:

      The Church was in Dubrovnik, Croatia and Lena ( Cersei) was supposed to be completely naked in it. They allowed to film in front of it, I think.

  10. Barbiegirl says:

    It looks from the email from the school that everybody is welcomed to film at the school. Press needs to be sensational And this is a good story, so let’s print it.

  11. Amelie says:

    I’m Catholic and follow Church issues regularly. There continues to be a misunderstanding among the faithful and the public about Church teachings. I agree with other posters who wonder why a Catholic school setting was selected for filming. It does sound like a publicity stunt.

  12. GByeGirl says:

    I don’t think that privately owned establishments should have to allow everyone on their property to do whatever they choose…however…this church is receiving the benefits of being tax free. I don’t think that any entity saving thousands of dollars per year–technically withholding tax revenue from the government–should be allowed to discriminate.

    • RobN says:

      You just effectively did away with the separation of church and state by giving the government the ability to pick and choose what beliefs are acceptable.

    • sdlove says:

      yea, well, i heard the NFL is a non profit, too.

  13. MAC says:

    Why is this in the news? Catholic schools are this way and have been. Nothing has changed in that respect.

    The only thing that has changed about Catholic schools is there are less of them and they are almost all lay teachers at this point. Who knows if they lay teachers will be less abusive than the priests and nuns.

  14. Kim1 says:

    Is the Catholic Church opposed to fornication( sex outside of marriage)? I wonder if they would allow a film with an unwed mother to be filmed at the school? I don’t know

  15. JKL says:

    I think the point is that they were told they could film there, and then refused by the administration. It’s so transparently homophobic, and to just say “oh, that’s religion for you” is counter to everything the gay rights movement has fought for the past 50 years.

  16. Lauraq says:

    I am religious and 100% support legalization of gay marriage. I don’t believe it’s sanctified by God, but Jesus told me to have compassion so I want to make sure my gay brothers and sisters can have those rights that protect them and their children.
    That being said, I think it’s REALLY important that individual churches and religious institutions can refuse to perform gay weddings, or such things as this. Religious liberty is super important for all religions…if we try to restrict that in favor of open mindedness we’re crossing a dangerous line.