New Film May Harm Gibson's Career

[Hollywood Bigs vow revenge]
By Sharon Waxman
NY Times
February 26, 2004
Posted on "A Conservative News Forum" on 02/25/2004 by SauronOfMordor

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 25 — Mel Gibson's provocative new film, "The Passion of the Christ," is making some of Hollywood's most prominent executives uncomfortable in ways that may damage Mr. Gibson's career.

Hollywood is a close-knit world, and friendships and social contact are critical in the making of deals and the casting of movies. Many of Hollywood's most prominent figures are also Jewish. So with a furor arising around the film, along with Mr. Gibson's reluctance to distance himself from his father, who calls the Holocaust mostly fiction, it is no surprise that Hollywood — Jewish and non-Jewish — has been talking about little else, at least when it's not talking about the Oscars.

Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, the principals of DreamWorks, have privately expressed anger over the film, said an executive close to the two men.

The chairmen of two other major studios said they would avoid working with Mr. Gibson because of "The Passion of the Christ" and the star's remarks surrounding its release.

Neither of the chairmen would speak for attribution, but as one explained: "It doesn't matter what I say. It'll matter what I do. I will do something. I won't hire him. I won't support anything he's part of. Personally that's all I can do."

The chairman said he was angry not just because of what he had read about the film and its portrayal of Jews in relation to the death of Jesus, but because of Mr. Gibson's remarks defending his father, Hutton Gibson. Last week in a radio interview the elder Mr. Gibson repeated his contention that the Holocaust was "all — maybe not all fiction — but most of it is." Asked about his father's Holocaust denial in an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC, the movie star told her to "leave it alone."

The other studio chairman, whose family fled European anti-Semitism before the Holocaust, was less emphatic but said, "I think I can live without him." But others said there would be no lasting backlash against Mel Gibson. "If the movie works, I don't think it will hurt him," said John Lesher, an agent with Endeavor. "People here will work with the anti-Christ if he'll put butts in seats." Mr. Lesher added, "He put his own money where his mouth is. He invested in himself."

As Mr. Lesher implied, Hollywood is also a place of businesspeople, and Mr. Gibson is a proven movie star, popular with audiences. There are few actors with that kind of bankability, no matter their personal views. Mr. Gibson is also a capable director. So some of the initial reactions to his film may fade over time.

Mr. Gibson not only directed and helped write the $30 million film, but he also paid for it, including production and marketing costs, out of his own pocket, which Hollywood has filled.

As an actor and successful director, from "Mad Max" (1979) through "Lethal Weapon" (1987) and its sequels to the Oscar-winning "Braveheart" (1995), Mr. Gibson has long been a Hollywood pet. But he has also been known as a prankster and a self-confessed abuser of various substances. Many in the relentlessly secular movie industry see his recent religious conversion — he practices a traditionalist version of Roman Catholicism — as another form of addiction.

Last Friday the media billionaire Haim Saban, former owner of the Fox Family Channel, sent a concerned e-mail message to friends about Mr. Gibson and his father.

The message forwarded an article by the journalist Mitch Albom calling on Mr. Gibson to repudiate his father's denial of the Holocaust. Mr. Saban sent the article to, among others, Roger Ailes, who heads Fox News; Norman Pattiz, who runs the Westwood One radio network; and Michael R. Milken, the securities felon turned philanthropist.

Amid the daily dealings of Hollywood, the film and the star have been fodder for unfavorable gossip. Dustin Hoffman has talked to friends about what he called Mr. Gibson's "strangeness" during the ABC interview. The producer Mike Medavoy said Mr. Gibson's religious zealotry made him feel uncomfortable. Mr. Hoffman is Jewish; Mr. Medavoy is the child of Holocaust survivors.

"One question is, `What propelled him to make the movie about the passion of Christ?' " Mr. Medavoy said. "It makes me a little squeamish. What makes me squeamish about religion in general is that people think they have the answer: `I think my God is the right God.' How do you argue against that?

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