So Mel Gibson is making a Holocaust movie. As the New York Times reports, Gibson’s production company is in the early stages of producing an ABC miniseries based on the memoirs of a Dutch Jew who was hidden and saved by her Christian neighbors. Though it’s not clear how much he’ll be involved personally, I’m sure I speak for plenty of Jews when I say, “Thanks, but no thanks, Mel. You’ve done plenty for us already.”
In some ways, though, it’s the perfect project: a filmmaker who has graphically, almost lovingly, depicted great acts of violence now making a movie about the ultimate act of human violence. It’s also, tragically, a fitting coda to his horrific depiction of Jews in “The Passion of the Christ.” That twisted version of Jewish complicity in Christ’s crucifixion has been with us almost as long as Christianity itself, and has been responsible for centuries of Christian accusations of Jewish deicide, charges that were used as the excuse for any number of murderous acts throughout the ages, leading up to the Holocaust that Gibson now proposes to depict.
With images of that other movie still fresh in our minds, one pictures this miniseries employing the same kinds of anti-Jewish stereotypes that fed “The Passion”: hooked-nosed Jews thirsty for gentile blood, pure gentiles showing (unearned) mercy to their (eternally) condemned neighbors. But then again, Gibson is the son of a vocal and virulent Holocaust denier, who has called the Shoah “fiction.” Will Gibson–father or son–consider this miniseries fiction or nonfiction?
For his part, Gibson the Son has said–and this is no joke–that “some of his best friends ‘have numbers on their arms,’” according to the Times. The article also quotes him as saying, on the one hand, “The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps”–and, on the other hand, that his father had “never lied to me in his life.” Let’s just say that none of these statements are reassuring to Jews.
I suppose I’m expected to end here with some snide comment about Gibson and his Jewish problem. But I can’t help feeling like maybe this will end up being for the good. I, for one, never believed that Gibson is actively anti-Semitic so much as he is inexcusably, perhaps willfully, ignorant of the role that theology, the Church, and anti-Jewish stereotypes have played in the long, bloody history of Christian violence against Jews, leading up to and including the Holocaust. After that epochal event, most of the Christian world took stock of its attitudes toward Jews and–heroically, in my mind–worked to clear the Church of anti-Jewish teachings. But blinded by fervor for his idea of traditional Christianity and his opposition to theological modernizing–which made hateful Passion plays like “The Passion” passe and revolutionized interfaith relations–Gibson stuck to his outmoded vision of Christ’s death (as filtered through the anti-Jewish writings of the 19th-century Sister Anne Emmerich) without compassion for, or even the slightest understanding of, the message his version sends and the hate it represents.
Doing a Holocaust film just might clue Gibson into the role Christian theology played in allowing that horror to happen, not to mention teach him that it was more than “some” Jews who died in those concentration camps. Perhaps it will shake him to the core as much as reenacting the crucifixion did.