The real Gloucester High School was awash in frustration yesterday with Hollywood and its fictional Gloucester High defined by teen pregnancy and low expectations in Lifetime Television's controversial movie "The Pregnancy Pact."
"I think everybody who saw it was pretty upset," senior Alex St. Peter said of the film as he left the high school yesterday afternoon. "People were talking about it."
"No comment," said Principal William Goodwin when asked about the reaction to the movie, which aired over the weekend, within the high school.
Swamped with phone calls about the Lifetime movie nearly two years after the school was the subject of national notoriety for a real pregnancy crisis, Goodwin was out in the rain at dismissal time yesterday enforcing a media ban.
"What angered me the most was the way the movie portrayed the students," junior Grant Weaver told the Times. "It showed a lot of partying, drinking and smoking. Obviously some of this happens, but not by everyone."
Before the weekend was over, anger at the movie was already overflowing online in forums including a Facebook page called "I Am Completely Against The Movie The Pregnancy Pact On Lifetime."
On Washington Street, George's Coffee Shop, which had been a favorite stop for the media members during the 2008 pregnancy crisis — including a live radio broadcast by former WRKO personality Reese Hopkins — is now turning away television crews.
"I think it is time for people to move on," said owner Dean Salah. "All of the locals are talking about it and want it to go away."
"The Pregnancy Pact" is not Hollywood's first treatment of Gloucester's student pregnancy crisis, but the film's mixture of fiction and documentary — and its decision to depict the rumor-driven and never-proven pact as real — has created the loudest response.
Scenes of pregnant teenage students expectantly awaiting the pregnancy test results of their classmates and then scheming to cover it up could be easier chalked up to the made-for-television genre had they not come after shots of the real high school, Main Street and Mayor Carolyn Kirk.
A disclaimer claiming that "although some of the locations and public figures are real, any resemblance to actual persons is purely accidental," has raised more questions than it has answered.
The creators of the film have called combining real and fictional dramatic elements an emerging trend in entertainment brought on by the rise of reality television.
While some have questioned the legality of mixing fact and fiction, it's not clear who would have legal standing to challenge the film in court.
"The Pregnancy Pact" limits its use of real-life video to public figures — such as Kirk and Superintendent Christopher Farmer — who face a higher standard for proving libel than private citizens.
Marsha Kazarosian, a Haverhill lawyer and former vice president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, said last week that the movie's format presented an unusual case study for media law, but did not immediately raise any litigation issues.
"The general rule is, if it something that is newsworthy and not an intrusion of a right to privacy and doesn't depict anyone falsely, it is covered by the First Amendment," Kazarosian said.
Although all the names of students in "The Pregnancy Pact" are fictional, the composite image of the high school — students drinking while pregnant, pushing strollers through the hallways, dismissing the idea of any GHS student going to Harvard — has sparked a local backlash.
"Basically, the movie put us in a negative light," said current high school junior Tom Martin yesterday. "People in our own state are mocking us for things we had nothing to do with. We are a bunch of unique students and Lifetime made us look like bad people."
And even without its controversial depictions of Gloucester students, Lifetime lost credibility with many local viewers for smaller issues — such as the comment accompanied by a shot of the Blynman Bridge that the city was only connected to the mainland by one road.
"Whatever happened to Route 128?" said one anonymous caller to the Times.
Patrick Anderson can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3455, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org