Teen actors posing as Enfield middle-school students are to reenact a controversial sex education lesson this weekend in a commercial directed by a Hollywood filmmaker for a conservative super PAC intent on defeating Gov. Ned Lamont.
The commercial will dramatize “Pizza & Consent,” a lesson that used different tastes in pizza toppings as a metaphor in a discussion about getting and recognizing genuine consent before engaging in any form of sexual intimacy.
An explicit version of the lesson used in an eighth-grade class prompted a furor from parents and a splash of national coverage that reached Fox News, fodder for the politicized debate over what students should learn about racism and sexuality.
The Lamont administration and the state Department of Education had no role in the production or distribution of the Pizza & Consent lesson, which Enfield officials have said was not age-appropriate and mistakenly used.
The commercial was commissioned by Parents Against Stupid Stuff, a super PAC founded in March with the goal of weaponizing elements of the education culture wars to attack Lamont and presumably benefit his opponent, Republican Bob Stefanowski.
Rather than hire a political ad shop, the PAC tapped Nick Loeb, the creator and star of an anti-abortion feature film, “Roe v. Wade.”
A casting call that closed Friday sought “an average looking” white female, aged 30 to 35, to portray the teacher and an unspecified number of 14- to 16-year-old children who can be “Black, East Asian, white, Hispanic male or female.”
“The female teacher should be outgoing, friendly, outspoken, engaging, and unembarrassed. Please do not submit for this role if you have strong feelings against this topic or the re-election of governor, Ned Lamont,” the notice said. “This is based on a true story and all teens and guardians should be comfortable with the nature of material.”
The spot was scheduled to be shot over the weekend for airing after Labor Day. The super PAC is one of two financed by wealthy donors in support of Stefanowski and opposed to Lamont.
Parents Against Stupid Stuff was founded and funded by Sean Fieler, a hedge fund manager and conservative Catholic philanthropist who has contributed to efforts opposed to abortion and gay marriage.
“Fieler’s divisive politics have no place in Connecticut, and Bob should immediately denounce his support,” said Jake Lewis, Lamont campaign spokesman. “This group is nothing more than a smokescreen for Fieler’s anti-choice anti-LGBTQ+ agenda as he tries to elect a candidate who will support his extreme policies.”
Fieler says the PAC will not make abortion or same-sex marriage issues. Its focus is limited to opposing how racism and sexuality is being taught, as well as the participation in girls’ sports of transgender athletes, who are protected by a state anti-discrimination law.
Timothy Anop, the executive director of the super PAC, said Enfield parents have not gotten clear answers about how the lesson came to be used. The school superintendent did not return a call for comment, but the system posted a statement online explaining that a less explicit version of the lesson was intended to be used in the classroom.
Anop said the answer is not persuasive.
“There had to be more going on. There are parents, the parents that we have working with closely, they’re getting stonewalled,” he said.
Given that school curricula generally are set by local school boards, the obvious question is: What should the governor be doing in regard to Pizza & Consent, and how does it differ from what Republican Bob Stefanowski might do?
“At the end of the day, the buck stops with Ned Lamont,” Anop said. “He has the Department of Education at his control to help these parents out and get more information.”
Exactly how is unclear.
The state Department of Education does have detailed curriculum standards for health and physical education. It is called the “Healthy and Balanced Living Curriculum Framework.” It includes the issue of sexual consent.
For grades 6-8, it suggests, “Explain the term affirmative consent and what it looks like in words and/or actions.” For grades 9-12, it says, “Explain why it is wrong to trick, threaten, or coerce another person into having sex.”
The details are left to the local school boards.
Parents Against Stupid Stuff says its polling found 80% of unaffiliated voters in Connecticut believe “it is inappropriate for public school teachers to encourage middle school students to explore their sexual wants, desires, and boundaries.”
In a press release, it faulted Lamont for refusing “to investigate or condemn” the Pizza & Consent lesson. In an interview in June, Stefanowski said of the lesson, “I’ve got no tolerance for that.”
He did not suggest, however, that the state restrict its teaching.
In Loeb, the PAC chose a conservative filmmaker whose account of Roe v. Wade premiered in February at the Conservative Political Action Conference and then was made available on video-on-demand platforms.
“We just connected with him, because he’s very talented in the realm of doing film, and especially being conservative,” Anop said.
The trade paper, Variety, begged to differ regarding Loeb’s talents as an actor or director. Its review of the film was headlined, “‘Roe v. Wade’ Review: Dreadful Anti-Abortion Drama Has No Use for Facts or Filmmaking Basics.”
Loeb played Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the abortion doctor and NARAL co-founder who made the conversion to anti-abortion advocate. Variety described Loeb “as inept at acting as he is at directing.”
It features Jon Voight. Roger Stone was one of the conservative activists who made cameos. He played a reporter.