Oliver Stone steps in it with Holocaust, media conspiracy remarks
Has Oliver Stone not been paying any attention to Mel Gibson's years-long watch-your-mouth drama?
If nothing else, Stone may have learned Monday that just because you speak behind a paid-content wall, it doesn't mean the world can't hear you. Especially if your comments skew anti-Semitic -- a topic known to fuel the political fire.
Sitting down with the Sunday Times of London in an interview to promote his new documentary "South of the Border," Hollywood's master of conspiracy theories lobbed another one out there about the depiction of the Holocaust -- though in a statement Monday he backtracked on what he'd said and apologized.
After remarking in the interview that “Hitler did far more damage to the Russians than the Jewish people, 25 or 30 [million],” Stone went into conspiracy mode with the assertion that "Jewish domination of the media" in the U.S. was to blame for Holocaust deaths getting a bigger spotlight than the millions of deaths that occurred in Russia in World War II.
The rest of the quote suggested that, in addition, U.S. foreign policy in general had been messed up by Jews both foreign and domestic: “There’s a major lobby in the United States," Stone said. "They are hard workers. They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has [messed] up United States foreign policy for years.”
Stone responded Monday with a statement: "In trying to make a broader historical point about the range of atrocities the Germans committed against many people, I made a clumsy association about the Holocaust, for which I am sorry and I regret. Jews obviously do not control media or any other industry. The fact ...
Major Jewish groups had in fact responded promptly Monday to Stone's interview, with the likes of the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee issuing statements condemning the director's remarks. (Click those links to see the statements in full.)
"For all of Stone's progressive pretensions, his remark is no different from one of the drunken, Jew-hating rants of his fellow Hollywood celebrity, Mel Gibson," the AJC said.
"The myth of Jewish control is an old stereotype that persists to this day.Stone uses it in a particularly egregious fashion by suggesting that Hitler has gotten an unfair shake because of Jewish influence," the ADL said. "This is the most absurd kind of analysis and shows the extent to which Oliver Stone is willing to propound his anti-Semitic and conspiratorial views."
Simon Wiesenthal Center director Rabbi Marvin Hier said that “to talk about ‘placing Adolf Hitler in context’ is like placing cancer in context, instead of recognizing cancer for what it really is," the Jerusalem Post reported; Yuli Edelstein, Israel's minister of diaspora affairs and public diplomacy, told the Post that Stone's statements were racist and made him sick.
It's been no secret that Stone's current project with Showtime is a 10-part documentary miniseries, "Secret History of America," he's said will put people such as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Joseph McCarthy "in context." Aside from the media comment, the director's riff in the Sunday Times continued a track he's been on since January.
“Hitler was a Frankenstein but there was also a Dr. Frankenstein. German industrialists, the Americans and the British. He had a lot of support," Stone told the Sunday Times. It was hardly the first time he'd expressed that sentiment -- speaking in Bangkok in January, he told reporters, "Hitler is a monster. There is no question. I have no empathy for Hitler at all. He was a crazy psychopath. But, like Frankenstein was a monster, there was a Dr. Frankenstein. He is product of his era."
He said at the Television Critics Assn. tour in January that Hitler has been "an easy scapegoat throughout history," adding that "we can't judge people as only bad or good" and that Hitler was merely "the product of a series of actions."
The Guardian reported that Stone told the Bangkok crowd his "Secret History" was aimed at providing an analysis of 20th century history that might be useful to President Barack Obama.
In January appearances, as in the most recent article, Stone also painted Stalin as a sort of not-so-bad guy -- relative to, you know, Hitler and his German war machine.
Moving forward, however, "Jewish domination of the media" perhaps wouldn't be entirely to blame, from Stone's perspective -- at the TCA, he said he expected critical spin to come from the right: "Obviously, Rush Limbaugh is not going to like this history and, as usual, we're going to get those kind of ignorant attacks."
The director, who in "South of the Border" has informal conversations with folks including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban President Raul Castro, also explained that in doing the "Secret History" project he was "trying to understand somebody I thoroughly despised" -- likening Stalin and Hitler to former President George W. Bush.
Coincidentally, over at 24 Frames, Steven Zeitchik recalls a recent on-the-record Stone comment in a "South of the Border" interview suggesting closet racism had played a part in the New York Times' coverage of Chavez.
When "Secret History of America" was announced in August 2009, Showtime billed it as examining events that were "at the time under-reported but crucially shaped America's unique and complex history."
(The Ministry reviewed the Sunday Times interview in full. Stone's comments came in the 31st paragraph of a 33-paragraph article in the wake of the British premiere of "South of the Border." Three paragraphs of that article are devoted to "Secret History of America." The article ends with an exchange between Stone and his daughter in which she says she always agrees with him, he shouts at her to always look at the other side, and she agrees -- then says she's "sooo brainwashed.")
-- Christie D'Zurilla
Photo: Oliver Stone attends the British premiere of "South of the Border" in London with his wife, Sun-jung Jung, left, and his daughter Tara on July 19, 2010. Credit: Max Nash / AFP / Getty Images