Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Indiewire logo

Will "Gatsby"'s Anti-Semitism Cost it Oscar Noms?

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik May 14, 2013 at 9:35AM

Movies with racist portrayals of African Americans haven't hurt their Oscar chances much--consider "Secretariat" or "Million Dollar Baby" or any number of well-meaning racially-charged movies that had problematic representations of African Americans ("The Help," "The Blind Side," "Crash," "Driving Miss Daisy"). But anti-Semitism is a different story. Remember the campaign against "A Beautiful Mind" because its character John Nash was an alleged anti-Semite?
1

Movies with racist portrayals of African Americans haven't hurt their Oscar chances much--consider "Secretariat" or "Million Dollar Baby" or any number of well-meaning racially-charged movies that had problematic representations of African Americans ("The Help," "The Blind Side," "Crash," "Driving Miss Daisy"). But anti-Semitism is a different story. Remember the campaign against "A Beautiful Mind" because its character John Nash was an alleged anti-Semite?

wolfsheim

Now here comes Baz Luhrmann's lurid "The Great Gatsby," which, true to the source material and the times in which it's set, features an unseemly stereotype of a sleazy, money-grubbing corrupt Jewish gangster named Meyer Wolfsheim, a character who has long been associated with Fitzgerald’s own anti-Semitism. But Luhrmann doesn't do the character any favors, painting him no less sympathetically or with any more complexity than present times might have required.

Inspired by real-life Jewish gangster Arnold Rothstein (who fixed the 1919 World Series, as does the character in the film), Wolfsheim, as described by Tablet Mag's Rachel Shukert, in a piece called "Gatsby's Jew," is a man with "dark complexion, mangled English, copious nose hairs, and cufflinks fashioned from human molars (a cannibalistic touch worthy of a dandyish Bond villain at his most feral)." In the film, Luhrmann keeps Wolfsheim's tooth jewelry as notable symbol of the character's exoticism and his underlying savagery.

If Jewish audiences might find the presence of Wolfsheim unpalatable, the casting of Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan in the role only further raises charges of not just anti-Semitism, but a more broad-ranging xenophobia that is conspicuously relevant to current audiences.

As Shukert notes, "Bachchan’s Wolfsheim seems not so much recognizably Jewish as unplaceably exotic, an Orientalist construct so vague as to offend no one (or everyone, depending on how you look at it)." Not unlike the portrayal of Ben Kingsley, also of Indian descent, as The Mandarin in "Iron Man 3."

A more damning suggestion comes from Flavorwire, which points out, "In this post-9/11 world, the brown-skinned South Asian man is as terrifying to reactionary movie-going Middle Americans as a Jewish banker was to the wealthy elite of the 1920s."

Let the Oscar smear season begin.

This article is related to: The Great Gatsby, Racial Issues

Follow us

E-Mail Updates



Recent Comments

By Niccolo Ungaro: I support Presdient Nasheed and add my name to this letter of support for his release.

Documentary Filmmakers and Activists Call for Release of "Island President" Nasheed

Mar 6th, 2015 11:10am

By Niccolo Ungarp: I support Presdient Nasheed and add my name to this letter of support for his release.

Documentary Filmmakers and Activists Call for Release of "Island President" Nasheed

Mar 6th, 2015 11:10am

By Abdul Majid: President Nasheed is our only hope for democracy in my country. This country cannot go forward with him in jail. Please help secure his…

Documentary Filmmakers and Activists Call for Release of "Island President" Nasheed

Mar 6th, 2015 7:46am

By imran: As a maldivian myself I call upon the international community to fight against the fabricated accusations Against president nasheed.the real…

Documentary Filmmakers and Activists Call for Release of "Island President" Nasheed

Mar 6th, 2015 5:12am

By Ahmed Aslam: I support president Nasheed! He has been jailed and tortured several times over the last 25 years fighting for democracy and human rights

Documentary Filmmakers and Activists Call for Release of "Island President" Nasheed

Mar 6th, 2015 4:38am

By Ahmed Iyaz: President Mohamed Nasheed is the only President who gave Maldivians freedom of expression. I'm totally against of unlawful arrest of him and…

Documentary Filmmakers and Activists Call for Release of "Island President" Nasheed

Mar 6th, 2015 3:58am

By Eugene Jarecki: I lend my voice passionately to this cause. It is of the utmost importance.

Documentary Filmmakers and Activists Call for Release of "Island President" Nasheed

Mar 6th, 2015 3:03am

By Ahmed: Former President Nasheeds regime was a disaster to Maldives. A real dictator. Forcefuly arrested the Chief Judge at midnight while sleeping…

Documentary Filmmakers and Activists Call for Release of "Island President" Nasheed

Mar 6th, 2015 2:06am

By Mohamed Salih Hassan: Former President Mohamed Nasheed should get fair trial. Call current govt of Maldives to hear majority of people's voice.

Documentary Filmmakers and Activists Call for Release of "Island President" Nasheed

Mar 6th, 2015 2:01am

By Mohamed Shareef: my Dear HEP Yamin. Please Release Ex- HEP Mohamed Nasheed from Custody, Because PG& You create & Make This case Against him He…

Documentary Filmmakers and Activists Call for Release of "Island President" Nasheed

Mar 5th, 2015 11:27pm