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[UPDATE] Gibson’s Maccabee film on hold; screenwriter calls Mel “Jew-hater,” Gibson responds

by Danielle Berrin and Naomi Pfefferman Magid

April 11, 2012 | 4:49 pm

Mel Gibson. Photo by REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian

It looks like Mel Gibson will not be making his controversial Maccabee revolt movie any time soon.  According to The Wrap, Warner Bros. didn’t care for the script screenwriter Joe Eszterhas delivered in February and has put the project on hold: “Warner’s has since passed on it, according to an individual close to the project. Warner production president Greg Silverman described it as lacking in ‘feeling’ and ‘a sense of triumph,’ according to the individual.  As another individual put it: ‘The script didn’t pass muster.’”

Eszterhas offered another point of view.  He wrote a seething 9-page letter to Gibson accusing him of wanton anti-Semitism and misrepresenting his intentions with the film. Eszterhas wrote that he spent two years researching and writing the script, which Gibson refused to read.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that you never had, or have, any intention of making a film about the Maccabees,” Eszterhas wrote in a letter partially published by TheWrap.com. “I believe you announced the project with great fanfare…in an attempt to deflect continuing charges of anti-Semitism which have dogged you, charges which have crippled your career.”

Eszterhas also accused Gibson of “using” him to garner Jewish good will for film credentials that include two movies “condemning anti-Semitism.”  To Gibson, Eszterhas wrote:  “I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason you won’t make “The Maccabees” is the ugliest possible one. You hate Jews.”

Gibson fired back with a letter to Eszterhas, calling many of the charges b.s. (though he never specifically addresses the Jew-hating ones) and insisting the real reason the project was shelved is that the screenplay stunk, according to TMZ.  “In 25 years of script development I have never seen a more substandard first draft or a more significant waste of time,” Gibson wrote.

The news about the shelved Maccabee project should assuage, at least for now, concerns by Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center that a Gibson film about Judah Maccabee would allow a notorious anti-Semite to tell a treasured Jewish story.  That would be “like casting Madoff to be the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission,” Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Wiesenthal Center said in a statement last year.

“If you were making a satire of Hollywood, you would have the anti-Semitic, drunk, racist, misogynistic movie director making the Judah Maccabee biopic,” The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg told Hollywood Jew in September. “It’s an act of outrageous chutzpah for an anti-Semite to appropriate a Jewish hero for a movie. Would you have a person who is widely believed by black people to be a racist involved in a movie about Martin Luther King Jr.? Would you have a person most gay people believe is a homophobe direct ‘Milk?’”

Gibson has drawn ire since voicing anti-Semitic remarks during a drunk driving arrest in 2006, when agent Ari Emanuel wrote in the Huffington Post that “alcohol does not excuse racism and anti-Semitism.”  Then there was Gibson’s controversial film, “The Passion of the Christ,” which depicted Jews as bloodthirsty Christ-killers, many opined.

In an email, a spokesperson for Gibson declined to comment on the Maccabee film-in-limbo, stating that he does not represent the film’s writer, Joe Eszterhas.

Eszterhas has suggested he wrote the film “The Music Box” as penance for his own father’s anti-Semitic past. In the 1930’s, his Hungarian émigré father, Istvan Eszterhas, wrote vicious anti-Semitic propaganda—the book ‘‘Nemzet Politika’’ (’‘National Policy’‘) refers to Jews as parasites—and was later investigated by the Justice Department for alleged war crimes, according to The New York Times.

Eszterhas was apparently devastated by the revelation of his father’s bigotry, writing in his 2004 memoir “Hollywood Animal”: “I knew my father wasn’t a murderer or torturer, literally speaking. He didn’t kill or torture Jews with his own hands. But did the words he wrote and said cause those who read and heard them to murder and torture Jews?’‘

In further excerpts published by The Wrap, Eszterhas refers to Gibson as “wild,” “crazed,” and “explosive” and said he “continually called Jews ‘Hebes’ and ‘oven-dodgers’ and ‘Jewboys.’

“It seemed that most times when we discussed someone, you asked ‘He’s a Hebe, isn’t he?’ You said most ‘gatekeepers’ of American companies were ‘Hebes’ who ‘controlled their bosses.’”

According to the letter, Gibson referred to the Holocaust as “a lot of horseshit” and wrongly claims the Torah makes reference to the sacrifice of Christian babies. Oh, and that Gibson’s intention with the movie was to “convert Jews to Christianity.”

Meanwhile, actor Joshua Malina spoofed the issue on his Facebook page this way:  “Warner Bros. reportedly puts Mel Gibson’s Maccabee movie on hold,” he wrote.  “No biggie,” asserts Gibson, “I kind of hate Jews anyway.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Naomi Pfefferman Magid is the arts & entertainment editor of the Jewish Journal, where she’s spent the last quarter century interviewing everyone from Seth Rogen, Natalie...

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