Last month a small controversy erupted when Kickstarter, the crowdsourcing site popular with upstart projects, blocked an effort to have a dramatic film about the Kermit Gosnell abortion court case funded on its site. News has come out that this may not be an isolated incident, as a second pro-life film maker has been told his effort at crowdfunding on Kickstarter will also be denied, for even more dubious reasons.
Jason Vaughn is a film maker from Texas, and his concept is to make a movie entitled, Stolen Moments. Vaughn’s idea is to display a series of vignettes illustrating numerous small moments in the lives of people and how those have been taken away via the termination of pregnancy. Nothing about the concept sounds remarkably provocative, save for the standpoint on the subject of abortion. So what did the site indicate as the problem with application for an account on the site?
According to the notification Vaughn received the basis was in this paragraph:
- Unfortunately, this program does not meet our guidelines. Projects on Kickstarter cannot offer self-help. This isn’t a judgment on the quality of the project, just a reflection of our focus.
Vaughn was no less confused than anyone what the term “self-help” specifically defined, and which aspect of his project this decision was rooted upon. His recourse at this stage, as he told me, was a link on the Kickstarter site for appealing the decision.
“In my written response,” he explains, “I asked them what self-help meant, and what part of my pitch had been the problem.” The response he received expanded on the defined term, but as for how it applied to Vaughn’s movie pitch it was still unclear. He received a second missive from the company, with this explanation:
- The project you submitted did not meet our guidelines, and it can no longer be submitted to Kickstarter. We consider providing “resources and choices for those in crisis pregnancies” self-help, safety and health advice which fall outside our scope unfortunately.
The company referred to a portion of Vaughn’s original pitch for the film. “There was some clumsy language in my initial submission,” he says. “I later went back and changed that part of my proposal. But I was not giving out health advice. It was a suggestion that the film might help with anyone consulting women who had questions on getting the procedure.” As for the finality of this second announcement he confirmed this to be the case. “After I got that message the appeals link was gone and I had no other way to discuss the situation.”
As a result of the denial Vaughn’s project has moved to another crowdsource website, Indiegogo. This is also the site that filmmaker Philem McAleer opted for when his own Kickstarter campaign had been shut down in a similar questionable fashion, but for different reasons. McAleer is striving to have a television drama made surrounding the infamous abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, the subject of a Grand Jury case involving numerous charges of infanticide. Kickstarter had also stipulated that McAleer failed to meet company guidelines, but in that instance took exception with what was considered some of the graphic references to describe Gosnell’s procedures.
It would be reactionary to state that Kickstarter is exhibiting a corporate stance of opposition to pro-life and/or anti-abortion projects. In fact Jason Vaughn is not lashing out at the company, even as he has been spurned professionally. “I love Kickstarter.” He says. “I have supported over two dozen different projects through the site over the years. In fact, if they as a private company want to deny anyone access for any reason, I’m fine with that.”
Vaughn however touches on an issue with standards. “If they want to support or deny certain causes I think it is something they should be up front about. Just state what your views are regarding subjects like this, that’s all.” There are some problems and paradoxes involving the interpretation of the company guidelines which suggest either an orchestrated restriction or institutional stance on this subject – the first being two similar film projects being denied within a matter of weeks.
The interpretation of self-help and the delivering of health advice in reference to Stolen Moments seems, to be charitable, extremely rigid. But the company does not appear to be consistent in the application of this particular guideline. Vaughn points out that other projects found on Kickstarter involve subjects directly giving health advice, such as concepts about health food, the dangers of GMOs, and other similar subjects. And as for the Gosnell film containing graphic content it appears fluid standards may be in play there as well. Porn projects abound on the site, and an album with incest in its title has avoided the same scrutiny, for instance. A number of horror films with descriptions seemingly in excess of the Gosnell references are still permitted to pander for support as well.
Most revealing, Vaughn points out there are a number of projects that could be classified as pro-choice which have not had their efforts curtailed. “If my movie is going to be classified as giving out health advice how come the pro-abortion movies aren’t being stopped as well? Is that not health advice?” One specific film project on the site, After Tiller, stands out regarding these shifting guidelines. The movie is about an abortion doctor and those who followed him in performing late-term abortions. This title avoided graphic references and being qualified as a dispenser of health advice, it is assumed, based on Kickstarter allowing it to gather support on the site.
With these contradictory guidelines-in-the-sand a look back at the initial message Jason Vaugh received from the company may hint at the reality. While insisting it was not a judgment on his film project, the phrase “…just a reflection of our focus” begins to explain things succinctly.
In the course of writing this piece I was contacted by Jason Vaughn an additional time. He told me how he had just received an email from Yancey Strickler, the CEO of Kickstarter. Strickler acknowledged there had been an error in the denial and it should not have taken place. Vaughn forwarded the email to me:
My name is Yancey, and I’m the CEO of Kickstarter. I came across a blog post this morning that reported your frustration at having a project rejected by us at Kickstarter. I took a look at the project, and think you’re right: we made a mistake. Your project is not in violation of our rules, and we would welcome it on the site.
I see that you’ve understandably launched your project elsewhere. I wish you the best with it. I’m sorry for the frustration and that you had a poor experience with us. We set very high standards for how we serve our community, and it’s frustrating when we fall short. I realize this is small consolation at this point, but it was important to me that we shared these thoughts.
Thanks for your time and all the best,
While a measure of contrition should be recognized, one cannot help but continue to see parallels with the McAleer experience. In that case the CEO also came forward to address that situation. Likewise Strickler said that the McAleer project was in fact acceptable and could be placed on his site for funding purposes. One other parallel to these messages; in both instances the CEO made these gestures only after the projects were pulled from Kickstarter and placed at another crowdfunding site.