“DEFIANCE” / MOVIE REVIEWS
Edward Zwick’s film turns Jews from victims into action heroes. How long before Hollywood does the same for Muslims?
By David Cox | The Guardian (U.K)
LA Times columnist Joel Stein’s attempt to demonstrate that the Jews still run Hollywood has got people talking, not least on this site. Yet, why should it matter if the heads of all eight major studios, and so many producers and directors, happen to be Jewish?
H I S T O R I C A L L Y, Jews have often chosen entertainment as a career partly because they’ve found themselves effectively barred from other, more dependable professions. Moreover, if it’s not too racist to suggest such a thing, they appear to be disproportionately endowed with creative ability.
All the same, one outcome seems to have been that stories about Jews feature prominently on the silver screen. And why not? After all, their history has been as dramatic as that of any other people who have ever walked the earth. However, unlike Shakespeare’s plays or Dickens’s novels, cinema has been overwhelmingly supportive in the telling of their tale.
Take Defiance, this week’s saga of Jewish anti-Nazi revolt in the forests of Belarus. The film is directed by Chicago-born Jew Edward Zwick. Efforts are made, doubtless sincerely, to create genuine theatrics out of the struggle between two brothers, one of them hawkish (and transgressive) and the other dovish (and saintly). None the less, the drama never really takes off. It’s muted by sympathy and respect for the film’s doughty protagonists and the refugees that they’re trying to protect.
Zwick openly admits that one of his purposes in making the film was to enhance the image of the Jews. Earlier cinematic efforts to champion them by casting them as victims helped entrench the idea, he says, that they somehow acquiesced in their fate. Zwick wanted to change that. “Passivity suggests people did something willingly,” he told an interviewer. “Powerlessness means they had no access to weapons.”
The case for violent Jewish assertiveness in the face of the enemy is starkly put. Hawk-brother tells dove-brother: “You don’t have the stomach to do what must be done,” words thatTzipi Livni might have addressed to her more squeamish cabinet colleagues over the past few weeks.
In the film – and there’s a spoiler here – innocent Jewish lives are lost because a collaborator is spared. The people of Gaza could be seen by some as having collaborated with Hamas by electing it. Their current plight, cinemagoers may perhaps subliminally surmise, is therefore a regrettable consequence of the need to provide effective protection for today’s Jewish innocents.
Defiance, then, like Munich before it, to some extent legitimises the righteous wrath of the Jews, just as movies from Schindler’s List to The Pianist have etched their suffering on the popular consciousness. All in all, these films have effectively transformed a much maligned group into human beings with whom everyone can empathise.
We should all be grateful for that. The most impactful of media has effectively undone a millennium of vilification that’s spawned appalling atrocities over hundreds of years. Thanks largely to cinema, the Jews are Untermenschen no longer.
Unfortunately, another group may be taking over the role of lesser beings in the eyes of many. In the post-9/11 world, Muslims have come to be widely maligned, but they haven’t benefited much so far from Hollywood’s favours. On the contrary, “rag-heads” have often been summarily conscripted to serve as appropriate targets for heroic infidel slaughterers.
As a result, most of the world identifies more readily with the families cowering from Hamas rockets in Sderot than with those other families undergoing Israeli bombardment in Rafah. Were this not so, Israel, which depends so much on support from beyond its borders, would doubtless find it far harder to conduct operations like its current campaign in Gaza.
Not fair, is it? But that’s showbiz.
David Cox is a writer and television producer. He has contributed to many publications, including the New Statesman, Prospect, the Guardian, the Times, the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, the Observer, the Sunday Times, the Evening Standard and The First Post, mainly on communications and environmental issues.