Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital–Academy Exhibit Way Overdue, Heavily Criticized by Industry Leaders

Museum to Revise Exhibit on Hollywood Jewish History after Backlash and Charges of Antisemitism

An exterior view of The Academy Museum is seen on April 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

“We will be implementing the first set of changes immediately — they will allow us to tell these important stories without using phrasing that may reinforce stereotypes.”

The exhibit, titled Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital, opened May 19, and was quickly met with criticism from many Jewish activists for its sometimes-negative portrayal of Jewish figures, which some argued was antisemitic.

United Jewish Writers

An open letter from a group called United Jewish Writers wrote that “while we acknowledge the value in confronting Hollywood’s problematic past, the despicable double standard of the Jewish Founders exhibit, blaming only the Jews for that problematic past, is unacceptable and, whether intentional or not, antisemitic. We call on the Academy Museum to thoroughly redo this exhibit so that it celebrates the Jewish founders of Hollywood with the same respect and enthusiasm granted to those celebrated throughout the rest of the museum.”

Negative Words: “tyrant,” “oppressive,” “womanizer” “predator”

The writers objected to the presence of the words “tyrant,” “oppressive,” “womanizer” and “predator” in the exhibit’s wall text. They also wrote that Hollywoodland was “the only section of the museum that vilifies those it purports to celebrate.”

The museum announced the changes before the letter’s circulation, but later reports stated it was signed by more than 300 individuals.

Ignoring Hollywood’s Jewish Past

Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of Movie Capital was announced in response to criticism after the museum’s lack of acknowledgement of Hollywood’s Jewish past.

Egregious Oversight

“If you’re going to have a museum in L.A. tied to the Academy that celebrates arguably the most significant art form of the 20th century, how is it possible not to acknowledge the Jewish men who started it all?” said producer John Goldwyn, grandson of Sam Goldwyn, whose executive endeavors a century ago led to the formation of both Paramount and MGM. “It’s an egregious oversight.”

The new exhibition is meant to highlight the role that Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer and other Jewish immigrants played in founding the American film industry.

The exhibit’s curator, Dara Jaffe, had acknowledged that “we were definitely very aware” of the criticism regarding the exhibit’s delay.

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