By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
Four days after he went into an anti-Semitic tirade during an arrest for drunk driving, Mel Gibson apologized yesterday for the first time to "the Jewish community," while the controversy built in Hollywood and fueled speculation about the Oscar winner's future.
"I want to apologize specifically to everyone in the Jewish community for the vitriolic and harmful words that I said to a law enforcement officer the night I was arrested on a DUI charge," Gibson said in a written statement released by his spokesman, Alan Nierob.
"I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot," Gibson's statement continued. "Hatred of any kind goes against my faith. I'm not just asking for forgiveness. I would like to take it one step further, and meet with leaders in the Jewish community, with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing."
Gibson added that he had begun an unspecified "program of recovery" and asked "the Jewish community" for help "in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from during that drunken display."
Those "vicious words" were uttered to James Mee, the sheriff's deputy who arrested Gibson at 2:30 Friday morning for driving 80 mph on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu with a blood-alcohol level later measured at 0.12 percent. (The state legal limit is 0.08.) "[Expletive] Jews," Gibson said, according to a police report later leaked to TMZ.com, a celebrity news Web site. "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Gibson then asked the cop: "Are you a Jew?" As it happened, the cop is.
The star's movie "The Passion of the Christ" was attacked as anti-Semitic, and critics have pointed out that his father, Hutton, has called the Holocaust "fiction."
ABC announced yesterday it had scrapped plans to produce a miniseries on the Holocaust with Gibson's production company -- but that deal was already in limbo, languishing in development for two years without even a completed script.
Yesterday's apology was the blockbuster sequel to Gibson's first apology, which came Saturday before the details of his tirade became famous. In Apology I, the star said only that he had made unspecified statements that "I do not believe to be true and which are despicable."
Apology I was judged to be "insufficient" and "unremorseful" by Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Foxman, who had criticized "Passion" as an incitement to anti-Semitism, posted a statement on the ADL's Web site: "We would hope that Hollywood would now realize the bigot in their midst and that they will distance themselves from the anti-Semite."
But Foxman was more impressed with Apology II. "We are glad that Mel Gibson has finally owned up to the fact that he made anti-Semitic remarks and his apology sounds sincere," Foxman said in a statement. "Once he completes his rehabilitation for alcohol abuse, we will be ready and willing to help him with his second rehabilitation to combat this disease of prejudice." Gibson's agent yesterday indicated his client was availing himself of help as an outpatient.
Gibson's latest apology did not change the views of Hollywood superagent Ari Emanuel, who said through a spokesman that he stood by his earlier statement that folks in Hollywood ought to be "shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line."
Others in Hollywood disagreed with Emanuel. "Any types of call of that nature fly in the face of what free speech is," said veteran producer Peter Guber, chairman of Mandalay Entertainment, in a phone interview from Hawaii, where he is vacationing. "Anybody trying to prevent anybody from being gainfully employed is distasteful to me. . . . Any type of vigilante justice or political pressure meted out by a business community would be wrong and ill-advised."
"As a Jew, I find the prospect of Jews acting in concert to start a boycott very unpleasant," said Paramount producer and author Lynda Obst in a phone interview. "In one of the few areas where we have power, I don't think we should act in what anti-Semites consider to be stereotypical ways. This could be an opportunity where we say to anti-Semites that Jews don't boycott. I don't like blacklists; I don't like any forms of blacklist."
The Gibson question remained topic A in Hollywood -- and in the Hollywood diaspora that, like Guber, is off on vacation. The industry is abuzz with speculation on Gibson's future in Hollywood.
Disney, which is set to distribute Gibson's next movie, "Apocalypto," due out in December, has not announced any change of plan. ("Apocalypto," filmed in Mexico, is about war among the ancient Mayans.)
Meanwhile, several Hollywood powerhouses told the Los Angeles Times they would not work with Gibson. "I don't see that in my future," said Laura Ziskin, producer of "Spider-Man."
"If he calls me tomorrow, would I represent him? The answer is no," Bernie Brillstein, the legendary showbiz talent manager, told the Times. "That doesn't make me right. I just don't like bigots."
Guber disagreed. "Sure, I'd work with him on a picture like 'Lethan Weapon' or 'Mad Max.' I think he's a terrific actor and director." If he stopped working with people in Hollywood who behaved badly, Guber added, "I'd only work with one person -- and that would be Cinderella."
"If he said it," former MCA Inc. president Sidney J. Sheinberg told the Times, "he's at best a putz."
While Hollywood debates the proper response to Gibson's vulgar harangue, one thing seems certain: The actor-director will still have a lucrative career in the movies.
"His career will go on," Guber said. "It's going to have some collateral damage, but I think his career will continue."
"In Hollywood, it's the bottom line," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Inc. and an expert on movie finances. "If people go to see the movies, he'll get to keep making movies."
"Gibson doesn't have to worry," author Zev Chafets wrote in the Los Angeles Times yesterday. "Before 'The Passion' came out, there were studio execs who bragged to Jewish reporters that they would never work with Gibson again. But after the film grossed more than $600 million, those execs raised Gibson on their shoulders and began optioning every goyish property from Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer."
History suggests that the movie biz is quite forgiving of people who behave badly, especially if their movies make money. Actor Robert Downey Jr. still works regularly despite a long rap sheet for drug arrests. Director Roman Polanski fled to France to avoid a prison term for having sex with an underage girl he had drugged. Polanski not only finds regular employment, he also won an Academy Award for directing "The Pianist."
But there is one venue where Gibson continues to take some punishment -- late-night TV. "As you may have heard, Mel Gibson was arrested in Malibu on a DUI," Jay Leno said in his monologue Monday night. "I don't know what he was drinking, but I think you can rule out Manischewitz."
That was just the warm-up. Then Leno unloaded this gag: "Police said today they found a bottle of tequila in Mel's Lexus. So let's sum up what happened here: Mel Gibson, who grew up in Australia, was drinking alcohol from Mexico in his Japanese car while yelling about the Jews in Israel. You know where he was coming from? A Thai restaurant. Welcome to America."