The ABC television network announced Monday it was dropping plans to co-produce a Holocaust miniseries with a company owned by actor-director Mel Gibson, who unleashed an anti-Semitic outburst after being pulled over early Friday morning in Los Angeles.
"Given that [the film has been in development for] two years and we have yet to see the first draft of a script, we have decided to no longer pursue this project with [Gibson's company]," said a spokeswoman for the network, which is owned by Disney. The spokeswoman did not make reference to Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade, in which he told police officers, "[expletive] Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."
Beyond ABC's indirect response to the comments, Hollywood's reaction has been notably quiet to anti-Semitism from one of its biggest stars. Attempts to elicit reactions from 15 leading Jewish producers, directors, actors and writers proved mostly fruitless, with a large number said to be on vacation and others declining to answer requests for interviews. Alan Nierob, Gibson's Jewish spokesman, was said to be on a two-week vacation at the height of his employer's crisis.
Well-connected entertainment industry journalists ran into the same shyness. Michael Speier, managing editor of Variety, explained the reluctance by saying, "In Hollywood, you can never help yourself by saying something critical on the record. You don't want to piss anyone off because you never know when you might need him later on."
Bernie Brillstein, a veteran talent agent, said, "Hollywood is a small company town and you figure everyone is entitled to his position. Anyway, everybody takes it for granted that Gibson is an anti-Semite, so people say, 'Well, he did it again.'"
However, had Gibson's alleged statement been "anti-gay or anti-black, there would be an uprising in Hollywood like you've never seen before," Brillstein said.
The major exception to the public silence has been talent agent Ari Emanuel, the model for agent Ari Gold on HBO series Entourage and brother of Illinois Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel.
In a widely circulated statement to The Huffington Post blog (www.Huffingtonpost.com), Emanuel wrote, "At a time of escalating tensions in the world, the entertainment industry cannot idly stand by and allow Mel Gibson to get away with such tragically inflammatory statementsâ€¦ People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line. There are times in history when standing up against bigotry and racism is more important than money."
While many in Hollywood have privately praised Emanuel's statement, hardly any are willing to join his public stand. Public statements calling for Hollywood boycotts of Gibson could also end up playing to the benefit of the Lethal Weapon star, cultural critic and Hollywood historian Neal Gabler wrote in online magazine Salon. "Gibson could be screaming that he is once again suffering for his faith and at the hands of the infidels," Gabler wrote.
Despite the risk, Disney and ABC did the right thing in cancelling the Holocaust co-production with Gibson, even if they are not willing to publicly admit the reasons, said Rabbi Marvin Hier, an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker and the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's film division. The decision demonstrates that Gibson "can't get away with his cheap anti-Semitism... For Mel Gibson to produce a film of one of the epics of modern Jewish history would have been a complete mockery."
Whether or not a Hollywood backlash grows against him, Gibson appeared Tuesday to realize the damage he may have done to his public image. In an apology released to "everyone in the Jewish community," Gibson admitted his anti-Semitic slur and asked to meet with Jewish leaders "with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing."
The actor added that "there is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark. Please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith."