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Teachers Protest 'Mrs. Tingle'

On the surface, it seems like just another film geared toward teens – the main target of the summer season.

Teaching Mrs. Tingle is a PG-13 story about a student who discovers a few days before graduation that a mean-spirited teacher is about to sabotage her scholarship. Eventually the student takes the teacher hostage, until after graduation.

But a furor over the film has erupted in Louisiana. Complaints to an Alexandria movie theater led to the film being removed on Friday – it's opening day of release nationwide. And that's just the beginning.

United Artists pulled the movie from its Baton Rouge cineplex after getting complaints from the school superintendent and other community leaders. They say the film's debut is untimely, considering the current climate of school violence.

UA vice president Mike Pade says Baton Rouge and Alexandria are the only cities where residents have sought to ban the film. However, a teacher-led boycott is under way in Lake Charles, another Louisiana city.

Controversy over the movie is not new.

The film, written and directed by Dawson's Creek creator Kevin Williamson and starring actresses Helen Mirren and Katie Holmes, has come under fire from the National Education Association. At its summer conference, the organization wrote a letter expressing its concerns to distributor Miramax Studios.

The movie's Friday opening came just four days after classes resumed at Columbine High School in Colorado for the first time since two students gunned down 12 schoolmates and a teacher and wounded 23 others before killing themselves last spring.

"The timing is really unfortunate," said Kathleen Lyons, spokeswoman for the National Education Association. "We find it appalling that Miramax would release a movie about kids hunting down teachers."

Since Columbine, the entertainment industry has faced criticism that the violence in films, television and video games contributes to real-life violence. President Clinton and Congress have appealed to Hollywood to show more restraint.

After the film opened, the NEA wrote another letter complaining of an Internet advertising contest that asked readers to submit stories about their worst teachers. Miramax has since pulled the campaign.

The NEA has not encouraged members to boycott the film, though many educators say the movie is a slap in the face to teachers.

But Teaching Mrs. Tingle will probably die a natural box-office death – it reached only 10th place during its opening weekend.