Several Southern Imax theaters are refusing to show a science documentary called "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" for fear it might offend audiences. At first glance, it's hard to figure how the film insults Southern sensibilities. The New York Times calls it "an underwater epic about the bizarre creatures that flourish in the hot, sulfurous emanations from vents in the ocean floor," which pretty much describes half the Southern congressional delegation, so why would a few sea monsters scare us?

The Charlotte Observer explains:

CHARLESTON, S.C. - The IMAX theater in Charleston and several others in the South have passed on showing a science film on volcanoes because of concerns it might offend those with fundamental religious beliefs.

"We've got to pick a film that's going to sell in our area. If it's not going to sell, we're not going to take it," said Lisa Buzzelli, director of the local IMAX theater. "Many people here believe in creationism, not evolution."

Buzzelli said while the Charleston theater doesn't rule out showing "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" in the future, she considers people's religious views when showing films. The film makes a connection between human DNA and microbes inside undersea volcanoes. Buzzelli said the handling of evolution was considered in her decision.

IMAX theaters in Texas, Georgia and the Carolinas have declined to show the film, said Pietro Serapiglia who handles distribution for Stephen Low, the film's director and producer who is from Montreal.

"I find it's only in the South," Serapiglia said.
The Times elaborates:
"Volcanoes," released in 2003 and sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and Rutgers University, has been turned down at about a dozen science centers, mostly in the South, said Dr. Richard Lutz, the Rutgers oceanographer who was chief scientist for the film. He said theater officials rejected the film because of its brief references to evolution, in particular to the possibility that life on Earth originated at the undersea vents.


Carol Murray, director of marketing for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, said the museum decided not to offer the movie after showing it to a sample audience, a practice often followed by managers of Imax theaters. Ms. Murray said 137 people participated in the survey, and while some thought it was well done, "some people said it was blasphemous."

In their written comments, she explained, they made statements like "I really hate it when the theory of evolution is presented as fact," or "I don't agree with their presentation of human existence."
I don't know how these sample audiences are put together, but I would think most people interested in Imax science films, Southerners or not, are not going to be fazed by a mention or two of evolution, especially when it's not really the main subject of the film. Is there, as the Charleston Imax Theater director says in the Times piece, "a lot more creation public than evolution public" in the South -- that is, a creation public that reacts angrily to even minor references to evolution? Or are fundamentalist activists (as part of organized efforts or just on their own) targeting such events, scrutinizing films for even passing statements that don't meet their biblical standards? Are they skewing the results in much the same way the right-wing Parents Television Council dominates "public" obscenity complaints to the FCC?

Obviously religious conservatism and creationism flourish in the South, but it's also possible that theater and museum officials are buying into stereotypes about Southern religious fanaticism and allowing themselves to be manipulated by a minority of committed activists.