Well, Mel Gibson knuckled under. At least somewhat.
Easy for me to be brave about Gibson’s movie, obviously, and for all I know these changes might be for the better. But I can’t say I’m not disappointed. This is starting to resemble (in a much lower-stakes field, it cannot be said often enough) some Union of Soviet Cinematographers self-criticism sessions for artists whose work was considered “bourgeois formalism” or whatever made Stalin’s colon clench that week.
I hope this report is accurate and the only changes Mel makes merely emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus and His disciples — in which case, not only is it theologically unobjectionable, but I’d applaud it as the greatest antidote to Christian anti-Semitism (of which, though any amount is too much, there is blessedly very little today compared to 100 years ago). Though I do wonder what “clearly labeling” Simon as a Jew would mean, since nearly everybody not in a Roman soldier’s outfit will be a Jew. In fact, I wished I’d emphasized this point more the last time I blogged about THE PASSION. In any faithful adaptation of the Gospels, almost all the characters, on both sides of the crucifixion, would be Jews. Only the deranged, looking to stroke a pre-existing prejudice (and they can’t set the standard), could see a Jew being killed, to the grief of His Jewish mother and His Jewish followers, by Romans at the behest of a different group of Jews — and come away blaming the Jews. (By the way, what about the risk of this movie stoking other prejudices? Have the Sons of Italy taken some sort of omerta … oops.)
Still I’m not optimistic. It’s just hard to read these complaints for very long and not come to the conclusion that the ADL, Wiesenthal Center et al, just believe that Christianity is simply anti-Semitic as such. And indeed the Jewish lobby groups aren’t backing off in the slightest (like in the quote from Foxman: “with creative rights come the responsibility to tell history as we see it” or something very close to that). Plus the Reuters article has this delicious bit of “please stop me before I refute myself”:
“Rabbis who have screened the film say it threatens to undo decades of progress between Christians and Jews after the Vatican refuted the deicide charges in the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965.”
Say what? I suppose if Gibson got a papal imprimatur for his 32-part TV adaptation of THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION for family Ramadan hour, there’d be a problem. But a Gospel film made by a Catholic artist in dubious communion with the Vatican and over which the church has no more control than it does over THE MATRIX movies — that can have THAT much of an effect? I hope that’s not true, but if it is true, then let’s just pack in interreligious dialogue and go home. Those “decades of progress between Christians and Jews” then would have produced nothing of value if it’s so superficial and fragile as to be threatened by THE PASSION.
And Gibson knuckling under came shortly after this piece in which a rabbi says his group has gotten more anti-Semitic letters than customary. But then goes ahead and blames … THE PASSION. Is there any oxygen in the house? For one thing, this article does not cite any of the hate mail as citing THE PASSION (and on the “dog not barking” theory, that probably means there hasn’t been any). But there’s an even more fundamental problem in blaming Gibson’s movie. For practical purposes, nobody has seen it. All that people have done is hear the discussions in the press, on discussion boards, blogs and whatnot. Therefore, by definition, unless Rabbi Heir thinks the letters are coming from the goyish putzheads Matt Drudge, David Horowitz or Michael Medved, the film THE PASSION cannot be the cause of anything. The only thing people know of it is the discussion surrounding THE PASSION. And is it not possible, Mr. Hier, that people are reacting (in a contemptible way, certainly) against your self-righteous bawling? And that maybe, just maybe, this is an example of being the cause of one’s own misery (that is possible, isn’t it?)
Anyway, even if Gibson makes no further cuts and the film plays to a firestorm of anti-Semitism charges next spring (that will happen unless the ADL gets final-cut approval — mark my words), the chill will be felt down the line. If one of the most famous stars in the world gets this much grief trying to self-finance and self-distribute a Christ movie without the approval of Jewish pressure groups, what’s a mere studio owned by a conglomerate with 30 other boycottworthy irons in the fire to do? Even if the Jewish groups lose, they win, because the cultural word is out: no more Jesus movies henceforth without the imprimatur of organized Jewry.
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