Racist and anti-Semitic websites and blogs abound on the internet. Many of these missives reflect a notion that there exists an overwhelming presence of Jews in Hollywood and imply that a Jewish presence influences the images in Hollywood films. To deny that social and political realities are independent of Hollywood imagery would be a direct contradiction of this particular blog. But the issue is less “so what” than to plead for caution in playing into the hands of bigotry.
The Jewish experience in the world since Biblical times has been expressed significantly on the Hollywood screen. But the arrogance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and others before him) and the continuing plight of the Palestinians are undermining the glory of Jewish history. Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic, The Ten Commandments (1953), though incredibly stoic with the wooden acting of NRA spoken Charlton Heston (1923-2008) as the Hebrew Prophet Moses, laid the religious/political backdrop for Otto Premingers’ Exodus (1960), a moving film about the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Who better than the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) to write the screenplay? Moreover, a needed public lesson about the psychological turmoil of a Jewish-American man in New York’s Spanish Harlem was manifested in Rod Steiger’s (1925-2002) riveting performance as the seemingly soulless Sol Naserman in Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker (1964). With a gut-wrenching sound-track by Quincy Jones and filmed in stark black and white with brilliant flash-backs, no one remotely conscious could deny the mind-bending brutality of Nazi Germany’s World War II persecution of Jews and the resulting Holocaust. Later, John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man (1976) presented Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) as Szell, and exile Nazi dentist in American and on the prowl for stolen diamonds. Oliver’s depiction of Szell, making viewers never want to go near any dentist, is still beyond that of Christoph Waltz’s nasty Colonel Hans Landa, in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009).
But as if to justify the Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinians in the Holy Land, Hollywood released John Frankenheimer’s politically conservative and paranoid thriller, Black Sunday (1977). The movie was a harbinger for The Patriot Act in the era of post 9/11. Black Sunday featured a brutal Israeli anti-terrorist agent on the loose in America and with good cause; Black September, the Palestinian terrorist organization, had hooked-up with a psycho Vietnam veteran intent on blowing-up the Super Bowl and slaughtering thousands. Interestingly, Black Sunday’s super-agent was portrayed by Robert Shaw (1927-1978) who had appeared two years earlier as Sam Quint, the half-cracked fisherman in Steven Spielberg’s equally paranoid shark thriller, Jaws (1975). Spielberg went on to release the far more responsible Schindler’s List (1993), based to the true story of Oskar Schindler saving Jews from Nazi extermination in Poland. An argument can be made that Schindler’s List should be required viewing for all.
But as Israel continued its anti-democratic occupation and its brutal treatment of the Palestinians, a seemingly Hollywood-led justification provoked what former United States President Jimmy Carter rightfully referred to as apartheid by the Israeli government. The election of US President Barak Obama in 2008 brought forth an even greater defiance by Netanyahu and his government. Meanwhile, Edwick Zwick’s Defiance (2008), based on a true story about Jews in Belarus fighting the Nazis in the woods during WWII, was release. As Israelis continued to build settlements in Palestinian neighborhood in spite of world condemnation, it was as too many Jews had taken to heart the saying; “This land, is mine, God gave this land to me” from the 1960 film, Exodus. Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie (2008) made the point that not all the German soldiers were Jew-hating Nazis. Tarantino’s explosive opening in Inglourious Basterds reminded everyone of the horror of ethnic cleansing, but Tarantino also pointed out how Jews could be just a brutal. The question has to be asked, has such brutality in film bleed over to how the Palestinians are now being treated in the real life?
Hollywood imagery continues to reflect life just as life is reflected in the imagery of motion picture entertainments. It takes a discriminating viewer to know the difference and much more importantly, not to discriminate against people in the real world.
NOTE: Comments must be approved by administrator before they will be viewable.
BlackPast.org is an independent non-profit corporation 501(c)(3). It has no affiliation with the University of Washington. BlackPast.org is supported in part by a grant from Humanities Washington, a state-wide non-profit organization supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the state of Washington, and contributions from individuals and foundations.