LOS ANGELES (August 1, 2006) — In 2004, Mel Gibson was able to whip up a groundswell of support for his film “The Passion of the Christ” by showing it in churches and to religious leaders around the country.
But Gibson may have a tougher time appealing to those same faith-based audiences for his next film, “Apocalypto,” given his arrest last week on suspicion of drunk driving and what he admited were “despicable” remarks made while being taken into custody.
Marketing the movie was already going to be tough. The film’s characters speak in an ancient Mayan language, much as the characters in “Passion” spoke in Aramaic and Latin.
The movie also has no stars and it’s topic, about the decline and fall of the Mayan empire, is not typical box office fare. Disney had been counting on using Gibson’s star power to market the film.
That approach may turn out to be risky, as evidenced by a comment made Monday morning on the Disney-owned ABC talk show “The View” by Barbara Walters.
“I don’t think I want to see anymore Mel Gibson movies,” she said, citing reports that Gibson spewed anti-Semitic remarks after being stopped for suspicion of drunken driving early Friday morning in Malibu.
An arrest report signed by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Mee and posted on the celebrity news Web site TMZ quoted Gibson as saying, “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” and asked the arresting officer, “Are you a Jew?”
Mee, who is Jewish, would not comment specifically on what Gibson said. “That stuff is booze talking,” the deputy said in an interview outside his home.
In a statement issued Saturday, Gibson said he “acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said.”
Gibson, 50, went on to say he has struggled for years with alcoholism. On Monday, Gibson’s publicist said the actor was seeking treatment for his addiction.
“The guy is trying to stay alive,” publicist Alan Nierob said.
Disney would not comment on the controversy Monday, simply issuing a statement that “‘Apocalypto’ has completed filming and is in post production.” Its release date is Dec. 8.
The first fallout from the arrest may have already come with Monday’s announcement by ABC that it had canceled a planned miniseries about the Holocaust that it was developing with Gibson’s Icon Productions.
“Given that it has been nearly two years and we have yet to see the first draft of a script, we have decided to no longer pursue this project with Icon,” the network said in a statement.
ABC spokesman Kevin Brockman declined to comment on whether the decision was motivated by Gibson’s arrest or the controversy surrounding the actor.
Gibson’s alleged tirade also drew the ire of Jewish leaders and of Ari Emanuel, an influential talent agent at The Endeavor Agency who blasted Gibson on the Arianna Huffington blog HuffingtonPost.com.
“At a time of escalating tensions in the world, the entertainment industry cannot idly stand by and allow Mel Gibson to get away with such tragically inflammatory statements,” Emanuel wrote Monday.
Emanuel said the entertainment community should react to Gibson’s remarks by “professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line.”
This is not the first time Gibson has faced accusations of anti-Semitism. Gibson produced, directed and financed “The Passion of the Christ,” which some Jewish leaders said cast Jews as the killers of Jesus. Days before “Passion” was released, Gibson’s father, Hutton Gibson, was quoted as saying the Holocaust was mostly “fiction.”
The arrest may even rupture the evangelical Christian community, which embraced Gibson’s “Passion” but may not forgive the star for drunken driving.
“If he really was drunk, that is wrong for anyone with his visibility, especially with the idea that he is claiming to be a Christian,” said Bob Waliszewski, media specialist with the conservative Focus on the Family. “I share the concerns that many people are feeling right now.”