Will Hollywood back Mel Gibson?

Inside the industry.
July 31 2006 2:00 PM

Disney Exec Backs Mel

But will the rest of Hollywood follow along?

Illustration by Deanna Staffo. Click image to expand.

Are we really surprised at Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic outburst last week? After his wink-wink Holocaust denials in the past? Probably not. The question is whether Hollywood will continue to countenance him. Disney is set to release his next movie; Oren Aviv, the new head of the Disney film studio, says he is prepared to forgive and forget.

For those who might not remember, Gibson's father is a Holocaust denier, and Gibson, pressed on the subject before the opening of The Passion of the Christ, said Dad had never lied to him in his life.

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He also offered some choice Holocaust-denier code talk: Many people died in World War II and some of them were Jews. And we've heard that he didn't quite take the Jewish blood-curse language out of his movie—just the English subtitle. Since our dead languages are rusty, fact-checking this is tricky. God knows if it's true, if you know what we mean. Gibson's publicist, Alan Neirob, declined to offer any enlightenment on the matter.

Gibson has apologized for his recent outburst and said he didn't mean what he said (which was, among other niceties, "Fucking Jews … The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world"). And of course, he was drunk. Certainly in our own limited experience with inebriation, we've never found ourselves inclined to articulate opinions utterly foreign to us. Given Gibson's Holocaust-denying history, it's hard to argue that he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Even in his apology, Gibson fudged. "I am deeply ashamed of everything I said, and I apologize to anyone who I have offended," he said. "Also, I take this opportunity to apologize to the deputies involved for my belligerent behavior." We can see that Gibson had a lot of ground to cover here—he threatened to get one cop fired and called another "sugar tits." But still—he can single out a few deputies for an apology without a word for millions of Jews? Asked why Gibson didn't address his slurs directly, publicist Nierob offered a bold "No comment."

Disney is set to release Gibson's Apocalypto in December—the same Disney that recently announced plans to slash its staff and its production slate while it pursues more family-oriented movies worthy of the company brand. Certainly Apocalypto won't be one of those, as it deals with human sacrifice and the bloody fate of the Mayan people. You can be sure the subject has provided Gibson ample opportunity to indulge his well-established appetite for gore.

Aviv, who recently ascended to head of the Disney film studio, happens to be a committed member of the tribe that Gibson seems to blame for everything. It is well-known in Hollywood that Aviv stopped speaking to director Michael Mann in the weeks before the release of The Insider because Mann was rude and disrespectful. In fact, there are those who say that Aviv vowed never to work with Mann again. We asked Aviv whether he might also be annoyed by anti-Semitic invective and received the following statement:

"The rumored incident in regards to Michael Mann happened over seven years ago … it's behind us. He's a talented director and I respect his body of work. I've worked with Mel on several films over the years and we have a great relationship. We all make mistakes and I've accepted his apology to what was a regrettable situation. I wish him the very best on his path to healing."

Perhaps Aviv is showing greatness of spirit here. But while we're on the subject of fudging, note that he doesn't say he would work with Mann again, talented or not.

Will the rest of Hollywood follow Disney's lead? Some in the industry vowed not to work with Gibson after his earlier performance: Dances With Facts About the Holocaust. Yet when the big Passion grosses rolled in, many couldn't wait to embrace him. It's a business that will forgive just about anything if the hits keep coming.

Some in Hollywood argue that artists must be forgiven their excesses. Even after Roman Polanski went on the lam after he was charged with drugging and sodomizing a child, many in Hollywood's top ranks were prepared to welcome him back. And these are not simple questions. How many Gauguin canvases would you give up if the artist in exchange didn't abandon his wife and five children and knocked up fewer young girls in the Third World? What if you were responsible for chatting Gauguin up as you financed and promoted his disease-spreading adventures? Once you've got all that figured out, how do you think Mel Gibson stacks up as an artist against Gauguin, and what bargain would you make there?

Back to more tangible concerns. One prominent producer says he already has an idea to help Disney maximize its gains on the upcoming Gibson Apocalypto by launching a new theme-park attraction. "You get in a speeding car," he suggests, "while a hologram of a drunken Mel Gibson follows you shouting 'Fucking Jew!' "

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