Shortly after Alabama Public Television announced it would not air an episode of PBS’ animated children’s program “Arthur” because it featured a same-sex wedding, a Methodist church in the state announced it would host a screening of the shunned show.
Birmingham’s First United Methodist Church — in collaboration with local initiatives Sidewalk Film Festival and SHOUT LGBTQ Festival — will hold the screening of the “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone” episode June 15. Sparkling apple juice and wedding cake will be served to celebrate the animated wedding.
“First Church's mission is to be an open place for all and for many years we have been advocates for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons not only in the life of the Church, but in all of society,” the church’s senior pastor, Rev. Stephanie Arnold, told NBC News via email. “We have seen the good that can come from sharing our space with our partners who seek to elevate conversations about justice in our community.”
“Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone” aired nationally May 13, and though it received overwhelmingly glowing reviews, not everyone approved of the episode.
"The vast majority of parents will not have heard about the content, whether they agree with it or not," Mike McKenzie, director of programming at Alabama Public Television, told NBC News in an earlier statement. "Because of this, we felt it would be a violation of trust to broadcast the episode."
This is not the first time the “Arthur” series has featured a gay character, nor is it the first time Alabama Public Television has avoided airing a show due to its LGBTQ content. In a 2005 episode of the “Arthur” spinoff program, “Postcards From Buster,” Arthur’s best friend visits Vermont to learn about maple sugar. On his trip, he meets several children with lesbian mothers and comments, “Boy, that’s a lot of moms!” The Alabama broadcaster pulled this episode from its distribution.
Rachel Morgan, creative director of both the Sidewalk Film Festival and the SHOUT LGBTQ festival, told NBC News she was “shocked” by Alabama Public Television’s decision not to air “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone.”
“I was questioning whether it was real,” Morgan said. “It was crazy to me — even in Alabama — that we weren’t going to play a cartoon.”
Upon hearing the news, she decided to organize a screening of the episode. First Church immediately seemed the most natural place for the event to take place since she had partnered with the church for screenings before.
“I’m used to thinking through the whole process in terms of figuring out where the best place to put a film may be,” Morgan said. “Marriages happen in churches all the time, so the venue made complete sense.”
More than 100 people have RSVP’d to the church’s screening, with more than 550 others expressing interest in the event, as of Tuesday morning.
Morgan said she’s been surprised by the attention the screening has received.
“We thought we were just going to show a cartoon, have a small store-bought wedding cake, but there’s been so many wonderful folks that have offered to help out,” she said. “Which is great, because now we need a bigger cake.”