Academy Museum to Modify Exhibit on Jewish Hollywood Founders Amid Outcry Over Antisemitism

The Academy Museum has vowed to modify language in its new “Hollywoodland” exhibit dedicated to the Jewish founders of Hollywood amid outcry labeling the exhibit antisemitic.

“We have heard the concerns from members of the Jewish community regarding some components of our exhibition ‘Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital,’” the Academy Museum said on Monday in a statement obtained by IndieWire. “We take these concerns seriously and are committed to making changes to the exhibition to address them. We will be implementing the first set of changes immediately — they will allow us to tell these important stories without using phrasing that may unintentionally reinforce stereotypes. This will also help to eliminate any ambiguities. In addition to these updates, we are convening an advisory group of experts from leading museums focused on the Jewish community, civil rights, and the history of other marginalized groups to advise us on complex questions about context and any necessary additions to the exhibition’s narrative. We are deeply committed to telling these important stories in an honest, respectful, and impactful way”

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When the Academy Museum in Los Angeles first opened, it was criticized for omitting Jewish representation and the history behind some of the industry’s many Jewish founders, including immigrants like Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer, among others. The Hollywoodland exhibit in response finally opened last month and was declared a permanent exhibit at the Academy Museum in Los Angeles.

But the exhibit quickly caused outrage. Over 300 Jewish professionals in Hollywood sent an open letter to AMPAS and president Bill Kramer decrying some of the wall text on placards as “antisemitic,” according to the New York Times.

The letter, which was signed by talent such as Amy Sherman-Palladino, David Schwimmer, and entertainment executive Casey Wasserman, took issue with words like “tyrant,” “oppressive,” “womanizer,” and “predator” in describing individuals like Harry Cohn and Jack Warner. The signatories of the letter said it’s “the only section of the museum that vilifies those it purports to celebrate.”

“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,” the letter read. “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.”

Both TheWrap and Los Angeles Magazine last week reported on some of the backlash over the exhibit, with LA Magazine additionally reporting that Israeli American director Alma Har’el resigned from the museum’s inclusivity committee after touring the exhibit. Some complained that films like “The Jazz Singer” only focused on the racist Blackface element of Al Jolson’s minstrel performance and not its influence as the first talkie. Producer Lawrence Bender also told Los Angeles Magazine the exhibit represented a “complete double standard” compared to how other diverse groups are portrayed.

“Today, we talk a lot about unconscious bias in our society, but this bias seems very much conscious,” Bender said.

The Hollywoodland exhibit draws from the work of Neal Gabler, author of “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” and it also features a documentary called “From the Shtetl to the Studio: The Jewish Story of Hollywood,” narrated by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. It also has a section about the founding of Hollywood studios and the growth of Los Angeles in the ’20s and beyond.

The news follows the museum’s artistic director Jacqueline Stewart stepping down to return to the University of Chicago, though the New York Times reports her exit is not related to the exhibition. She will be replaced by Amy Homma, currently the museum’s chief audience officer, but also serves on the leadership council for the Anti-Defamation League.

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