On Nov. 26, The Nativity Story, New Line’s $40 million-plus take on the birth of Christ, premiered at the Vatican before an audience of more than 7,000. Notably absent from the crowd? Star Keisha Castle-Hughes. The 16-year-old — who was nominated for Best Actress for Whale Rider in 2004 — plays the unwed mother-to-be Mary and is herself expecting a child out of wedlock with her boyfriend of three years. (Also MIA was Pope Benedict XVI, who was understandably too busy to attend.) Given the sacred nature of the Nativity story to millions of Christians, weren’t the filmmakers concerned that the underage actress’ pregnancy might turn off their carefully targeted religious audience?
Director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen) isn’t sweating it. ”The whole point of Judeo-Christianity is not to judge others,” she says, optimistically. And while news reports and message boards remain fixated on the fact that Castle-Hughes is with child, the PG-rated film has been given a thumbs-up from Christian media company Outreach and other religious advocacy groups who supported The Passion of the Christ. And the Vatican premiere, despite the Pope’s absence, was widely interpreted as a papal stamp of approval. Says Oscar Isaac (All About the Benjamins), who plays Joseph, ”Hopefully people are starting to understand there’s a difference between the actor and the character.” A heavenly sentiment to be sure, but one which will be put to the test at the box office over the next month.