Israel and Hollywood
by Abe Novick
“Americans don’t read books, Americans don’t read newspapers. Americans go to the movies.” — Stephen Colbert
Even through the warped mirror of satire, it’s hard to argue with the spot-on, pop cultural lens that’s wielded by Stephen Colbert. Here he explains to the Oscar nominee Kathryn Bigelow that it’s movies that will set the record for how Americans and the world recall history.
So while her film “Zero Dark Thirty” didn’t win Best Picture or much else last night, it’s doubtless that the 2 ½ hours of storytelling in it, will have a longer lasting impression detailing the hunt for Bin Laden than any book, article or testimony before Congress.
For this, Israel should take note. As Oscar consistently demonstrates, the way to influence hearts and minds is with stories. And since we’re not reading books or newspapers, we are still consuming stories via movies.
In a timely piece of convergence, Jews just celebrated one of the greatest stories in our history. It’s one that has political intrigue, a struggle for power, an evil villain right out of central casting and genuine heroism. Yes the story of Purim rivals anything Hollywood could ever dream up.
Moreover, the long, historical prism we celebrate Purim through, has relevance to today. The Purim story of course takes place in ancient Persia (what is now Iran) which, in its contemporary setting, also has a raving lunatic named Ahmadinejad, who like Haman, threatens genocide.
While it’s no Hollywood secret that the stories in ancient Jewry feed into and infuse the plotlines of countless contemporary, cultural chronicles—rare is it that Hollywood provides the modern source of Israel with the support it needs and deserves. When will Hollywood make a pro-Israel film that lifts it to the heroic heights her ancient tales occupy?
Next month, network television will again blow the dust off the classic, but antiquated epic, “The Ten Commandments”, starring Charlton Heston with whom most young people (if they know him at all) probably associate as a meme in the gun debate due to a media loop eternally rerunning his iconic “cold dead hands” moment.
While they don’t make ’em like that anymore, The Maccabees, another story of ancient Jewish heroism, was in the hands of Mel “F%#K The Jews” Gibson for a time until it fell apart due to his rantings.
In such an upside-down world, one has to wonder how, of all the Hollywood Directors out there, did an anti-Semite almost end up telling that story?
Even while that project fortuitously collapsed, it’s nevertheless ironic that Israel was given the stage at The Academy Awards, by exercising a self-critical eye on itself. Israel was represented twice at last night’s Oscars with two films from the Holy Land that were up for Best Documentary, “5 Broken Cameras” which portrays violence against the director’s friends and family who lived in a West Bank village and Dror Moreh’s, “The Gatekeepers” which has six former Shin Bet chiefs (Israel Security Agency) on camera all claiming Israel is misguided or as David Denby of The New Yorker explained,
“…they are convinced that Israel is on the wrong track—that the future is “dark,” …that Israel is turning into a colonial power policing a rapidly increasing population of Arabs within its borders.”
J.J. Goldberg of The Forward put it more succinctly in a January piece when he wrote, “An Oscar for either one would be a tribute to Israeli art, but a black eye for Israel.”
While Israel, as the constant target of criticism is not news, rarely is it held up as a model of free speech and democracy for allowing its citizens, artists, politicians the freedom to hold the mirror up to itself and reflect itself (warts and all) for all the world to see.
The awards and accolades are for the stories that portray its flaws. But the fact that it has the courage to share those stories gets overlooked. The one country in the region that actually allows and encourages the exercise of freedom to self-reflect—moreover, publicly struts down the red carpet, broadcasting its foibles—doesn’t win any awards for its open and transparent media.
If Ted, the rude teddy bear puppet who last night declared “everyone in this business is at least half-Jewish” is even half-right, then maybe it’s time Israel and Hollywood get together, bond and put their heads together on how they can make the ultimate buddy movie.