June 23, 2024

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Amid the protest, the Academy Museum is reviewing an exhibit on Hollywood’s Jewish roots

Amid the protest, the Academy Museum is reviewing an exhibit on Hollywood’s Jewish roots

When the famed Academy Museum of the Motion Picture opened in 2021 with exhibits celebrating the diversity of the film industry, the museum was criticized for largely omitting one group: the Jewish founders of Hollywood.

Last month, the museum aimed to right that wrong by opening a new permanent exhibition that highlights the formative role that Jewish immigrants like Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer played in the creation of the American film industry.

But the new exhibition, which occasionally highlights Hollywood founders, has caused quite a stir. An open letter sent to the museum by a group called United Jewish Writers on Monday objected to the use of words including “tyrant,” “oppressive,” “womanizer” and “predator” in the wall text, calling the exhibit “anti-Semitic” and “predatory.” . He described it as “the only section of the museum that denigrates those it claims to celebrate.”

In response to the growing outcry, the Academy Museum said in a statement Monday that it “listened to the concerns of members of the Jewish community” and was “committed to making changes to the exhibition to address them.”

The museum said: “We will implement the first set of changes immediately, as they will allow us to tell these important stories without using phrases that may inadvertently reinforce stereotypes.”

The museum announced the changes shortly before receiving the open letter signed by more than 300 Hollywood professionals. “While we acknowledge the importance of confronting Hollywood’s problematic past, the vile double standards displayed by the Jewish founders, and blaming only Jews for that problematic past, is unacceptable and, whether intentionally or not, anti-Semitic,” the letter read. “We call on the Academy Museum to completely restore this exhibit so that it celebrates the Jewish founders of Hollywood with the same respect and enthusiasm given to those celebrated in the rest of the museum.”

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Among the signatories were entertainment executive Casey Wasserman, actor David Schwimmer and television writer Amy Sherman-Palladino.

“This is not unconscious bias, this is conscious bias,” one of the signatories, Lawrence Bender, who has produced Quentin Tarantino’s films, said in an interview. “It feels like an ax mission on the Jews.”

The exhibit, which opened last month, drew on the work of Neal Gabler, who wrote a well-respected book called “An Empire of Their Own: How Jews Invented Hollywood.” It included a section on the founding of Hollywood studios, a look at the development of Los Angeles, and a documentary titled “From Shtetl to Studio: The Jewish Story of Hollywood,” narrated by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

There have been some positive reviews. While criticizing the absence of archival objects, for example, The Wall Street Journal said That the exhibition “should quell the troubled voices demanding explicit Jewish representation within this museum and some recognition of the industry’s oldest history.”

But backlash quickly emerged amid heightened sensitivity about anti-Semitism in the wake of the October 7 attack on Israel and the war in Gaza. TheWrap reported On the growing criticism last week, and an article in Los Angeles The magazine is entitled “Hiding in Plain Sight: How the Academy Museum Relegated Hollywood’s Jewish Founders to the Ghetto“, said Alma Harel, an American-Israeli film director who served on the museum’s inclusion committee, resigned after touring the exhibit.

Some critics took issue with what they saw as the show’s implication that Jewish Hollywood pioneers discriminated against other marginalized groups as a means of integration, pointing to its discussion of blackface in “The Jazz Singer.”

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“Nothing was said about D. W. Griffith or Walt Disney’s famously racist portrayals or questionable leadership styles,” Ketje Kogan, a Hollywood writer and producer, wrote in a letter to the museum. “Only the Jewish founders are accused of oppressive control, of being washers, tyrants, womanisers, predators, social climbers and, of course, racists.”

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO “We are shocked and surprised that the Academy made an effort to correct this and appears to have somehow gotten it wrong,” the Anti-Defamation League said.

The controversy over the exhibition reached its peak two weeks after the Academy Announce Museum director and president Jacqueline Stewart will step down from her position. Stewart, a film historian and A.J 2021 MacArthur Foundation The “genius” award will go to her University of Chicago, where she works as a professor. She will be succeeded by Amy Homa, the museum’s chief public officer, who serves on the Anti-Defamation League’s Entertainment Leadership Council.

Academy officials said her departure had nothing to do with the exhibition. In an interview, Stewart said it was “a huge learning experience for us,” and added that the museum did not intend to emphasize the negatives, but rather convey “a sense of joy, exploration and innovation.”

The museum said it would convene “an advisory group of experts from leading museums focused on the Jewish community, civil rights, and the history of other marginalized groups.”

She has already agreed to meet with some critics. Producer Jane Levin said she had an appointment scheduled for the following week, after feeling “heartbroken and sad” after visiting the exhibit on opening day.

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