Owen Gleiberman replies to the hundreds of letters -- some dismaying, he says -- about EW's reviews of Mel Gibson's controversial film

By Owen Gleiberman
Updated March 19, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

A response to criticism of EW’s ”Passion” reviews

I have been an EW reader for over five years, and I especially enjoy the movie critiques by Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum. But I am disappointed this month. How could the editor actually allow two reviews of ”The Passion of the Christ” by writers with a Jewish background? — Michael

The true irony here is that the much-vaunted anti-Semitism issue is a nonstarter. Are some Jews in ”The Passion of the Christ” depicted harshly? Yes. Did I watch ”Schindler’s List” and come to hate Germans? No. — Patrick

Where to begin? EW received more than a hundred responses to the two reviews, written by Lisa Schwarzbaum and me, of ”The Passion” of the Christ. Dismayingly, the questions and comments above represent many of the sentiments expressed. I first want to address the issue of likening the Jews in Mel Gibson’s film to the Germans in ”Schindler’s List” — an insidious and hateful comparison that was made by Gibson himself during his Feb. 16 ”Primetime Special Edition” interview. The analogy masquerades as a statement of high tolerance, since it appears to ”forgive” both Jews and Germans while offering a big, compassionate endorsement of ”Schindler’s List” in the process. But consider, for a moment, the parallel that is really being drawn here: The Jews who called for Jesus’ death in the Gospels (arguably as part of God’s grand design) are being equated, right before your eyes, with Nazis. That’s a far more extreme — and destructive — statement than any made by ”The Passion of the Christ.” With forgiveness like that, who needs intolerance?

As for the implication that writers ”with a Jewish background” aren’t equipped to appreciate a work of Christian faith, my response is that no one would have despised that sentiment more than Jesus. Should a Catholic not write about a work of Jewish passion? Should Protestants not write about Buddhists? Blacks not write about whites? Men not write about women? You get the picture. What this letter describes is a world in which individuality, the very breadth and heartbeat of human experience and response, has ceased to have any meaning outside of the ”group” one belongs to. That’s a world we should all be saved from.

(Got a movie question for Lisa or Owen? Post it here.)

The Passion of the Christ

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