The quiet comeback of Mel Gibson

Nominated for an Oscar and being courted once again in Hollywood, the actor who was ostracized for a decade after his antisemitic outburst appears to be returning to the mainstream.

Getting ready for the Oscars: Finishing touches put in place at site of 89th Academy Awards (credit: REUTERS)
LOS ANGELES – On Sunday night, Mel Gibson may win an Academy Award.
That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, since the veteran actor and director has been nominated – and won – an Oscar before. Two in fact – he won Best Picture and Best Director for 1995's cult classic Braveheart.
But 20 years is a long time in Hollywood, and even more so for someone who retreated far from the limelight for a decade after a publicized antisemitic rant left him little more than a pariah.
Ten years has passed since Gibson’s drunk driving arrest where he railed against Jews, and even less since audio tapes were released of his racist, expletive-filled, abusive rant against his then-girlfriend. In 2011, he plead no contest to battery charges against that ex-girlfriend. And for a while, the Hollywood mainstream seemed to turn its back on the tainted Gibson. But now? They’re coming calling.
“I think there is some sense... that he’s done his time,” said Tom Tugend, a veteran reporter who has covered Hollywood for decades, including for The Jerusalem Post. “I’m not surprised at his comeback and am not particularly upset that he was nominated,” he added. “In general, the change in the level of antisemitism (down) and of Jewish self-assurance (up), compared to 70 years ago... has been enormous.”
Earlier this month, amid the Oscar buzz, it was reported that studio giant Warner Bros. was courting Gibson to direct the blockbuster sequel Suicide Squad 2. That’s a far cry from 2010, when the actor was booted from a cameo role in The Hangover 2 after the cast and crew objected to him taking part.
“It’s not called ’show business’ for nothing,” said Tugend. “If a studio head believes that a given actor in a film will boost the box office take, it doesn’t matter – slight exaggeration here – if he has a record as a pedophile, has burned the American flag or is antisemitic.”
Joshua Malina, a Jewish actor famous for his roles in The West Wing and Scandal, agreed.
“This is a town that likes to tell good stories, whether or not the storytellers are good people,” he told the Post. “I’ve also been around long enough to recognize that Hollywood will welcome back just about anyone that might bring in a dollar.”
DESPITE GIBSON’S protestations – and more than a handful of defenders – many consider it no question that he is no friend of the Jews.
US journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who has interviewed Gibson in the past, wrote in The Atlantic several years ago that the actor is “Hollywood’s leading antisemite” and on Twitter that he is “the most charming, spittle-flecked antisemitic nutjob I’ve ever met.”
And Malina wrote on Twitter last year: “Surely the Hollywood Foreign Press could’ve found a younger, hipper racist, misogynist, Jew-hating homophobe to put onstage than Mel Gibson.”
Malina told the Post that while it’s true 10 years has passed, he hasn’t felt any shift in Gibson’s views.
“I suppose if Mel Gibson had undergone some sort of sea change in perception, some profound revelation that his rage and intolerance were misguided, yeah I could embrace the guy and his work, but I haven’t seen that,” Malina said. “Years ago he issued some carefully parsed words of apology, but I’ve seen a recent appearance where the interviewer is clearly trying to tease out some rumination from him on his past, some lesson learned, and he’s got nothing to say. It’s remarkable.”
GIBSON IS up for Best Director this year for Hacksaw Ridge, a World War II film about a pacifist combat medic. It is the first movie he has directed since 2006’s Apocalypto. And while Gibson hasn’t been completely out of work for the past 10 years – he appeared in 2010’s The Edge of Darkness, 2011’s The Beaver and produced, co-wrote and starred in Get the Gringo in 2014 – he has still been relatively quiet since 2006.
It was July 2006 when Gibson was pulled over for drunk driving in California. According to a transcript of the arrest proceedings, Gibson asked the police officer: “Are you Jewish?” The actor then added: “F@#king Jews... the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” Gibson admitted to the comments, and apologized for his poor judgment, blaming alcohol and pressure from work.
While Gibson went on a series of TV interviews to apologize for his behavior, saying he was “ashamed that that came out of my mouth,” parts of an interview with Diane Sawyer – and subsequent media appearances – left some in the Jewish community less than convinced.
“It was just that very day that Lebanon and Israel were at it,” he told Sawyer about his comments. “That’s fear related, you have your own fears about these things.”
When Sawyer asked him what the Jews are responsible for, he said: “I think that they’re not blameless in the conflict. There’s been aggression and retaliation and aggression... but I know that it’s not black and white and I know that you can’t roar about it like that.”
Searching for other reasoning that might have fueled his antisemitic drunken outburst, Gibson brought up to Sawyer his past brush with the Jewish community: the controversy surrounding his 2004 film The Passion of the Christ.
The movie, a retelling of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ according to the New Testament, drew criticism from many Jewish organizations for its perceived antisemitic implications – that Jews were responsible for Jesus’s death.
At the time, Gibson, a devout Catholic, rejected any such claims. And speaking to Sawyer two years later, he said his drunken comments could have been due to lingering feelings he had after the “brutal public beating” the Jewish community inflicted upon him for the film. “I had my rights violated in many different ways,” he said.
IT IS clear Gibson had been holding on to the controversy, but many Jewish groups saw his 2006 rantings as vindication that the actor and director had always been harboring antisemitic inclinations.
“Of course, Gibson is antisemitic, but he was stupid or drunk enough to say so publicly,” said Tugend. “As Kirk Douglas (born Issur Danielovitch) told me: ‘I assume that everyone I meet is an antisemite, unless he can definitely prove otherwise.’”
Indeed, The Passion of the Christ was surrounded by controversy long before it even hit theaters. The Anti-Defamation League came out strongly against the film, saying that “productions such as The Passion could likely falsify history and fuel the animus of those who hate Jews.”
“At every single opportunity, Mr. Gibson’s film reinforces the notion that the Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob are the ones ultimately responsible for the Crucifixion,” the organization wrote. “We fear the consequences of this film.”
Today, Gibson can’t stand his past being dredged up, and castigates those who suggest it is relevant to his future work. In an interview with Variety last year, he called any references to his past scandals “really unfair.”
“I don’t understand why after 10 years it’s any kind of issue,” he said.
Gibson’s reputation hasn’t been helped by his refusal to outright condemn his father, Hutton Gibson, a vocal Holocaust denier. Hutton has said the Holocaust was “mostly fictional,” that many Jews in Europe simply emigrated, and there was no way the Nazis could have killed six million of them.
BUT IF you abhor the man, can you – or the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – still enjoy the art?
“I understand the idea of judging the art separate from the artist,” said Malina. “I do it all the time myself. I like to read Edith Wharton and Roald Dahl. I’ll go to an exhibit of Degas’s work. I enjoy listening to Wagner’s music. That said, I don’t forget that all these people were nasty antisemites.”
But, Malina continued, there’s a more current, visceral element when it comes to Gibson.
“[Wharton, Dahl and Degas] all have something else in common; they’re dead,” he added. “Somehow that distance makes it easier for me to enjoy their work; I don’t feel that I am putting money in the pockets of these vile people. Mel Gibson is very much alive, and anyone with an Internet connection can read or hear him saying violent, horrible, abusive things about Jews, women, Latinos, gays, and people of color. You can hear him admit to hitting a woman too. I can live very happily without seeing the movies of this man.”