March 14, 2002
An Anti-Semitic Mind?
Was John Nash an anti-Semite? And should it affect the Oscars?
As next week's deadline for Oscar voting draws near, this year's exceptionally fierce competition has been enlivened -- or demeaned -- by last-minute charges that the brilliant, schizophrenic mathematician whose life is portrayed in "A Beautiful Mind" is a "Jew-basher."
The incendiary accusation was first made public last week by Internet gossip columnist Matt Drudge.
Drudge, best known for first publicizing the Monica Lewinsky scandal, charged that the director and screenwriter of "A Beautiful Mind" purposely omitted mention of Nobel laureate John Forbes Nash's alleged anti-Semitism, "cognizant that the chances of winning Oscar gold would be lessened if their film's protagonist was a basher of a religion that is disproportionately represented in the academy voting pool."
Akiva Goldsman, the film's screenwriter, countered in an impassioned phone interview with The Jewish Journal that the charges deliberately twist and exploit Nash's bizarre delusions during his decades-long struggle with schizophrenia.
Drudge declined to identify the source that drew his attention to the charges or comment on widespread suspicions that a rival contender for Oscar honors put him up to it, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The charges in question are based on quotes compressed in two pages of Sylvia Nasar's biography of Nash, on which the film is loosely based.
"Before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war," Nasar wrote, "[Nash] explained he was a left-wing Palestinian Arab refugee, a member of the PLO and a refugee [making a dent in] Israel's border, petitioning Arab nations to protect him from 'falling under the power of the Israeli state.' "
At a later point: "The grandiose delusions in which Nash was a powerful figure, the Prince of Peace, the Left Foot of God and the Emperor of Antarctica," were replaced by fears of persecution, Nasar wrote.
Nash believed, according to the biography, that "the root of all evil, as far as my personal life is concerned, are Jews, in particular John Bricker," apparently a colleague, "who is Hitler, a trinity of evil."
Nash concluded that he had to petition the Jews, and also mathematicians and Arabs, "so that they have the opportunity for redress of wrongs," which must, however, "not be too openly revealed."
To screenwriter Goldsman, a man "very proud of my Jewish heritage," holding a paranoid schizophrenic responsible for these ravings is "like blaming a man with cancer for losing weight."
It is characteristic of the disease, said Goldsman, that suspicions of persecution fasten on those closest to the patient, such as immediate family members.
"If his friends and colleagues are Jewish, then they would naturally be seen as agents of a sinister force, out to get him," the writer said.
Goldsman said he had talked at some length with Nash, now 73, and had detected no indication of anti-Semitism.
Has he questioned Nash about his earlier anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli statements? "Nash has no remembrance of this or any other of his delusions," Goldsman said,
To the accusation that he and director Ron Howard had deliberately scrubbed Nash's anti-Semitic delusions, as well as his adultery and homosexual episodes, Goldsman noted that the film was never intended as a literal portrayal of Nash's life, but rather aimed at capturing the essence of his personal struggle.
"We omitted Nash's childhood, his previous relationships with women, his dalliances with men and a hundred other things," in order to make people understand the suffering the disease entails, Goldsman said. "Everything else fell by the wayside."
Goldsman believes that Drudge, and those who give credence to his report, "are trying to exploit our cultural self-protectiveness. We're being manipulated because we're Jewish."
"The decidedly nasty nature of this year's subterranean Oscar campaign -- which in some quarters has taken on the tone of a brutal political campaign -- has been a frequent topic of conversation," notes The Hollywood Reporter. "There have always been whisper campaigns directed against films, but this year, the whispers seem to have turned into shouts."
This cutthroat competition, said Stacey Snider, chairman of Universal Pictures, is responsible for the attacks on her studio's "A Beautiful Mind."
"The timing of these latest missives and their orchestration has to be calculated. It can't be inadvertent," she told The Hollywood Reporter.
Goldsman agreed that it was odd that the anti-Semitic quotes are being discovered just now, "after the book has been out for five years and the movie has been playing in theaters for 11 weeks."
Prominent film critic Roger Ebert, appearing on the Howard Stern show, labeled the Drudge charges as a smear campaign by a contending movie trying to discredit "A Beautiful Mind."
"I don't think that item just appeared on the Drudge Report," Ebert said. "Someone had to have leaked it."
To Goldsman, 40, the theme of the film strikes close to home. Both his mother, a Holocaust survivor, and his father are psychotherapists, who ran a group home for autistic and schizophrenic children, who were young Goldsman's playmates, at their Brooklyn Heights residence.
From that perspective, the picture is a tribute to his parents and to the children he grew up with. Anyone who would exploit the suffering of schizophrenics to garner some easy headlines, said Goldsman, "should be ashamed of himself."