April 3, 2009 -- Students at the University of Maryland will have to entertain themselves this weekend by doing something other than watching the most expensive pornographic movie ever made.
Following colleges across the country that have screened the big-busted, big-budget adult film "Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge," the College Park-based school's student union planned to show the movie Saturday, but caved in Thursday to pressure from a local lawmaker who threatened to pull state funding from the school's budget.
"I am pleased to know that the university did the right thing and canceled this movie," said Maryland state Sen. Andy Harris. "Students can't light up a cigarette in the student union but can watch a hardcore XXX porn film. Occasional viewing of porn is more dangerous than occasionally lighting up a cigarette. If the movie is being shown for educational reasons, someone should be presenting the dangers too. Porn breaks up lives."
The university's decision to cancel the screening spotlights a debate -- held on several campuses where the film has been screened -- over whether colleges should be used to advertise pornography, the role of porn in the exploitation of women and the First Amendment.
The film already has been screened at a handful of the country's prestigious colleges and universities, part of an innovative marketing campaign on the part of production company Digital Playground to reach the "well-educated, big spending consumers of the future," according to company spokeswoman Adella Curry.
"Pirates II" cost some $10 million to make, according to Digital Playground. The two-and-a-half hour sexy send-up of Walt Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" incorporates computer-generated special effects -- including animated skeleton pirates and six XXX-rated sex scenes.
With free high-speed Internet connections in most college dorms, students have easy access to free -- often pirated -- pornography. By providing free screening copies of the film to colleges, Digital Playground hopes to encourage students to buy their films, rather than download free pornography.
Porn Marketed to Students
The average retail price for the "Pirates II" DVD is $65, but in some places it can sell for as much as $100, according to Curry.
Curry would not comment on how many copies of the DVD have been sold.
The company actively sought campuses to screen the film beginning last summer, after the on campus success of the film's prequel, "Pirates," in 2005. Some 3,000 students attended a screening of "Pirates" at Carnegie Mellon that year.
Realizing universities -- where sex and controversial ideas tend to circulate more openly than in the outside world -- were the perfect environment to launch a media blitz, the company reached out to 100 schools last summer to offer free copies of the film for screenings.
Some of the screenings have been small affairs, unbeknownst to school administrators. Several students screened a free copy in a dorm room at Southern Connecticut State University, according to a spokesman there.
Other schools, however, have shown the film in public theatres and classrooms, often incorporating an additional educational component to the screening, and sometimes inviting protests from conservative student groups.
The University of Maryland's student union planned to have a representative from Planned Parenthood talk about safe sex. Following the screening at UCLA in December, members of the cast and the director answered students' questions, some of which pertained to the exploitation of women.
Some 850 people attended the film at UCLA and about 650 stayed for the question and answer session that followed, said Alex Jeffries, director of the Campus Events Commission's film program.
Jeffries said the students in attendance found the film "mostly comedic" and were "laughing and cheering."
"The staff screened it before, and we didn't think it was out of bounds," Jeffries said. "It was pretty typical as porn goes, not extreme or violent. Pretty much everyone in attendance knew what they were getting into. We had added security there checking IDs to make sure everyone was over 18."
Christian Groups Protest Porn
A group of UCLA students affiliated with the Christian groups Campus Crusade for Christ and the International Justice Mission mounted a small protest, both online in the weeks prior to the event and then on campus outside the theatre.
"Our opposition wasn't because we see ourselves as self-righteous Christians," said John Book, the director of Campus Crusade at UCLA. "We didn't think this movie was good for the community."
Members launched a Facebook petition, attempted to buy up tickets to keep others from attending the film and held a small prayer vigil outside the theatre, he said.
"As a campus minister for 12 years, I have met a ton of students addicted to porn," he said. "It damages relationships with people. It is isolating. It breaks up marriages. I have seen devastation in this community as a result of pornography."
On Thursday, UC Davis became the most recent school to show "Pirates II."
According to Digital Playground, the film, one of the few of its type directed by a woman, has already been screened at UCLA, Northwestern University, Carnegie Mellon, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Southern Connecticut State University.
Tulane University is also planning a screening, according to the company.
At the University of Maryland, news that the screening had been canceled was met with mixed reviews.
"I was going to check it out," said 19-year-old freshman Evan McQuirns. "There was no real opposition to the film on campus. I'm surprised the state Senate stepped in."
Liz Iavolino, a 19-year-old sophomore and a member of the student group Feminism Without Borders, said she was opposed to the screening on campus, but was more outraged that the school bowed to pressure from politicians.
"I'm not an advocate of porn at all, and I don't like it," she said. "Generally, I think it's a bad idea. I think it's exploitative and objectifies women. This film would not have had a huge effect on campus. It is not the state's job to dictate morality."
Despite the timing, Millree Williams, a university spokesman, denied the school canceled the film in response to threats from the state capital.
"We realized today that this film was not serving the education purpose we thought it would," he said.