I thought Hollywood was supposed to be a place that celebrates a bold artistic vision. A film that challenges the staid, calculated studio system is usually admired. But boldness and independence are not winning Mel Gibson many admirers in the usual critical corners. He is making and privately financing a movie about the passion and death of Jesus Christ.
Cultural movers and shakers like "spiritual" films -- but only to the extent that they either mock orthodox faith or celebrate unorthodox faiths. In 1988, "The Last Temptation of Christ," which among other things depicted Judas as a victim and Jesus as having lecherous thoughts about Mary Magdalene, was the toast of the town among critics. They loved Terrence McNally's play "Corpus Christi," which presented Jesus as a gay man. The list of lesser movies and plays and TV shows mocking Christianity -- especially Catholicism -- is long, and usually so bad as to be pathetic, but all have a critic somewhere who acclaimed each for its "boldness."
I haven't been able to see Gibson's film yet, but that doesn't inhibit defending Gibson against malicious, irresponsible criticism from people who also have not seen the film.
In an op-ed headlined "Mel Gibson's Martyrdom Complex," New York Times associate editor Frank Rich furthered his paper's tainted reputation by claiming Gibson's film will incite anti-Semitism. Rich asked: "Why worry now? The star himself has invited us to. Asked by Bill O'Reilly in January if his movie might upset 'any Jewish people,' Mr. Gibson responded: 'It may. It's not meant to. I think it's meant to just tell the truth ... Anybody who transgresses has to look at their own part or look at their own culpability.'"
This sounds pretty damning, except that it was very dishonest editing of the O'Reilly interview. Here's the full Gibson answer: "It may. It's not meant to. I think it's meant to just tell the truth. I want to be as truthful as possible. But you know, when you look at the reasons behind why Christ came, why he was crucified, he died for all mankind. He suffered for all mankind. So that really, anybody who transgresses has to look at their own part, or look at their own culpability."
Translation: Jesus Christ died because of, and for, mankind .
Rich hasn't seen the movie or even read the script. He relied on a group of Jewish and Catholic scholars who also haven't seen the movie and were relying on an outdated script. He acknowledged this script might bear little resemblance to the film, but that wasn't about to stop him. "Either way, however, damage has been done: Jews have already been libeled by Mr. Gibson's politicized rollout of his film."
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