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Tony Kushner defends Jonathan Glazer's “Zone of Interest” Oscars speech: 'Who doesn't agree with that?'

Tony Kushner defends Jonathan Glazer's “Zone of Interest” Oscars speech: 'Who doesn't agree with that?'

Glazer has been criticized in an open letter signed by hundreds of Jewish film professionals, while his defenders include Kushner, the Auschwitz Memorial, and Zoe Kazan.

In the wake of an open letter signed by hundreds of Jewish film professionals calling out Jonathan Glazer for critical remarks he made about Israel at this year's Oscars, other Jewish public figures are standing up to defend the British director, including playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner.

In an episode of the Haaretz Podcast published Wednesday, the four-time Oscar nominee called the Zone of Interest filmmaker's controversial acceptance speech "an unimpeachable, irrefutable statement."

"What [Glazer] was saying is so, is so simple," Kushner said while promoting a new production of Angels in America taking place in Israel. "He's saying Jewishness, Jewish identity, Jewish history, the history of the Holocaust, the history of Jewish suffering, must not be used as an excuse for a project of dehumanizing or slaughtering other people. This is a misappropriation of what it means to be a Jew, what the Holocaust meant, and he rejects that."

He added, "Who doesn't agree with that? What kind of person thinks that what’s going on now in Gaza is acceptable?"

<p>Taylor Hill/Getty; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic</p> Tony Kushner; Jonathan Glazer

Taylor Hill/Getty; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Tony Kushner; Jonathan Glazer

Loosely based on the 2014 Martin Amis novel, The Zone of Interest stars Christian Friedel as Rudolf Höss, Nazi commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, as he and his family (including Oscar nominee Sandra Hüller) try to build their dream life while ignoring the screams and gunshots coming just over the wall. The film was produced over the course of 10 years, and used the actual home that once belonged to the Höss family. The Auschwitz guard towers looming in the background throughout the movie are the real towers from the real camp, which is now a memorial and museum.

The Zone of Interest won two Oscars earlier this month: one for Best Sound (as the suffering of Holocaust victims is mostly conveyed through audio, while the cameras stay fixed on the Nazis benefitting from the horror), and one for Best International Feature Film. When Glazer, who is Jewish, took the stage to accept the latter award, he drew a clear connection between the genocide depicted in the film and the ongoing suffering in Palestine and Israel.

"Our film shows where dehumanization leads at its worst," Glazer said on stage. "Right now, we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation that has led to conflict for so many innocent people. Whether the victims of Oct. 7 in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza, all the victims of this dehumanization. How do we resist?"

<p>A24</p> 'The Zone of Interest'

A24

'The Zone of Interest'

Though Glazer was the only Oscar winner to mention Israel and Palestine from the stage, he was not the only person in attendance who was thinking about the conflict. Several attendees wore buttons calling for a ceasefire in the region, and protesters demanding the same clashed with police on the threshold of the Oscars' red carpet.

In the weeks since the ceremony, opposition has mobilized against Glazer. The open letter continues to gain signatures, while Zone of Interest executive producer Danny Cohen has publicly distanced himself from the director's words. But others are speaking out in Glazer's defense, such as the director of the Auschwitz Memorial, Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński.

"In his Oscar acceptance speech, Jonathan Glazer issued a universal moral warning against dehumanization. His aim was not to descend to the level of political discourse," Cywiński said in a statement posted to social media. "Critics who expected a clear political stance or a film solely about genocide did not grasp the depth of his message. The Zone of Interest is not a film about the Shoah. It is primarily a profound warning about humanity and its nature."

Other defenders of Glazer's speech include actress Zoe Kazan, who tweeted, "kind of shocked that anyone who saw zone of interest could be shocked by what glazer said at the oscars," and New Yorker film critic Richard Brody, who negatively critiqued The Zone of Interest on release but defended the director this week on social media.

"I'm appalled by the bad-faith distortions of Jonathan Glazer's remarks," Brody wrote. "He doesn't reject Judaism; he doesn't equate massacres in Gaza and in Israel with the Holocaust but finds them all rooted in dehumanization — and he's right."

The Jewish organizations Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now have also backed Glazer. And while the anti-Glazer open letter has received more than 1,000 signatures, more than 6,000 film actors, directors, writers, and producers from across the globe (including fired Scream star Melissa Barrera) have signed Film Workers for Palestine's statement of solidarity with the thousands of Gaza residents who have been injured, killed, or left homeless by the Israeli military's onslaught in response to the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, 2023.

"Those attacking Glazer try to claim sole proprietorship of Jewish identity and the legacy of the Holocaust, in order to defend the Israeli government's oppression, occupation and genocide of Palestinians," Jewish Voice for Peace said in a statement. "In reality, Glazer speaks for the massive and growing number of Jews who honor our histories by joining our Palestinian siblings in their struggle for freedom and justice. And as anti-Zionist Jews, we will continue to stand with them in struggle until Palestine is free."

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