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Gretchen Carlson on set of 'Persecuted'

Gretchen Carlson on set of ‘Persecuted’

“Persecuted,” the new movie thriller about a preacher turned fugitive and framed for murder, is getting anything but a “fair and balanced” reception from prominent critics, thanks to its inclusion of Fox News star Gretchen Carlson in the cast.

Despite the film’s strong numbers in several Midwestern markets, news outlets on the coasts have been quick to condemn it, zeroing in on the Fox News star’s acting debut.

In fact, Carlson says, she’s laughing at how transparent the criticism is in taking aim at her views and her associations.

“I’m just cracking up” at the critical reviews,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. “The way in which they write the criticism is so transparent, because they automatically hit me for who I am.”

It’s not a big deal, she explains.

“I’m used to this in my life. I have a very thick skin. I was Miss America; trust me, I know how to be attacked. I was valedictorian in high school; I graduated with honors from Stanford; I studied at Oxford; I was a concert violinist as a child. The reason I rattle that off is because I’m not a dummy. It gets tiring to constantly be the target of criticism. I was used to that after being Miss America, and I’m certainly used to it working at Fox News.”

Some of the critics at least, have been amusing for her, she said. When she read the New York Times review, for example, “I laughed out loud. I seriously did. The first line is: ‘The title – Persecuted – and the presence of the Fox News personality Gretchen Carlson in the cast are really all you need to know.’ … I mean, they don’t even know me!”

The Times’ review was just one of the attacks.

“Persecuted is a heavy-handed and didactic drama which also manages to be totally mushy in terms of the message it’s trying to convey,” writes Christy Lemire for RogerEbert.com. “The ubiquitous presence of Fox News Channel anchor Gretchen Carlson ensures that.”

“Featuring Fox News Channel personality Gretchen Carlson as a television news anchor the not so fair and balanced film might have made its religious themes palatable if it worked reasonably well as a thriller,” piled on the Hollywood Reporter’s critic.

PERSECUTED - In theaters July 18th.  (PRNewsFoto/One Media LLC)“Persecuted” writer-director Daniel Lusko, however, is defending Carlson’s inclusion in the star-studded cast, which features names like former Sen. Fred Thompson (of “Die Hard” and TV’s “Law & Order”), James Remar (“X-Men First Class,” “Red”), Bruce Davison (“Lost,” “X-Men”) and Dean Stockwell (“Quantum Leap,” “Air Force One”) along with well-known Christian performers Brad Stine and Natalie Grant.

“I’m glad we chose Gretchen and I’d do it again,” said Lusko. “I don’t mind criticism of my movie, but singling out Fox is ridiculous. If I had to choose between critics and fans I’d go with the fans any day.”

“I’m used to being attacked simply because of where I work,” added Carlson. “But I am shocked to see so many criticizing the movie because of my association with Fox News of which I am very proud.”

In an earlier, exclusive interview with WND, Carlson explained why she jumped at the chance to make her acting debut in “Persecuted.”

‘Persecuted’ is about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and if anyone has watched me on Fox News over the last nine years, they will know that those are issues I speak about and am very open about,” Carlson told WND. “This film is really emblematic of these issues that are being discussed in many circles across the country right now. One of the draws of this film is it’s supposed to be thought-provoking in the sense that when you leave the theater you say to yourself, ‘Maybe I should be thinking more about these rights that were given to me centuries ago by the people who fought so hard for these freedoms.’”

The criticism, Carlson told the Reporter, appeared to be just for the sake of attacking, without any real point.

“At least they could’ve said I wasn’t a good actress, but it’s not that. The Huffington Post said that I look like a Barbie doll. Oh, geez, I’ve never heard that before! I mean, come up with something new. Let’s see: ‘blonde,’ ‘bimbo,’ wow. At least be creative. it’s almost like spell check – they automatically fill in the blanks.

“I’m hardly in the movie at all, so for them to give so much attention to me in these critiques is interesting,” she continued. “If they had said I should have gone to Juilliard to act instead of play violin, maybe that would have been warranted. But it’s not about my acting skills. It’s just a very easy way for them to take a dig at something that is constantly criticized, which is Fox News, unfortunately,” she said.

Watch the trailer for “Persecuted” below:

Opening last weekend in over 700 theaters nationwide, “Persecuted” was dwarfed by the major studio releases but surprised box office watchers by out-performing even the weekend’s top film, “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes,” in key heartland markets such as Wichita, Kansas; Memphis, Tennessee; and Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio.

“We are very happy to see that many traditionalist viewers are coming out to enjoy this movie in such large numbers,” said Lusko. “I never dreamed we’d be outpacing the big movies in these markets. It’s a thrill.”

See where “Persecuted” is playing in a theater near you.

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