In one of the latest episodes of Bojack Horseman, the animated Netflix series from Raphael Bob-Waksberg, we met a character called Vance Waggoner. Vance is a star who has been spurned by the Hollywood system for his drunken outbursts and vile behaviour – but the show finds him on the comeback trail, eventually winning a Lifetime Achievement award at the We Forgive You awards, or “Forgivies”.
The character could hardly be any more pointedly based on Mel Gibson, who was shunned for a while by studios after his anti-Semitic meltdown in 2006 but has been offered multiple comebacks since, including an Oscar-nominated return to directing with Hacksaw Ridge, a role in the commercial hit Daddy’s Home 2, a gritty cop caper with Dragged Across Concrete, and now the announcement of two new movie roles, playing Santa Claus (!) and a Rothschild.
Wait, come again? Yes, Mel Gibson is to appear in Rothchild, a film that is billed as “a dark satire about New York’s super rich”. According to news site Deadline, the film’s title “puns on the wealthy Rothschild group”. Whether removing one letter from a word can be deemed wordplay is a question for another day. In the interim, it won’t have escaped the attention of gimlet-eyed readers that the film appears to have committed an error taken straight from the anti-Semitism 101 handbook.
Indeed, Wikipedia lists “controlling the world financial system” as 1.18 on its “Antisemitic Canards” page, which explains further that the Anti-Defamation League “has documented various antisemitic canards concerning Jews and banking, including the myth that world banking is dominated by the Rothschild family.”
To put this in context, the anti-Semitism row that has recently engulfed Labour has, in part, hinged on the Rothschild slur: former councillor John Clarke was suspended from the party for retweeting a tweet that repeated it in 2017, and last month the Brighton council candidate Alexandrina Braithwaite was also suspended by the party for claiming that the Rothschilds were “responsible for almost every war on earth”.
Back to the Wikipedia page for Antisemitic Canards we trot, to find “Causing wars, revolutions and calamities” at 1.8 on the list. The venerable website lists one Mel Gibson as a notable champion of this particular conspiracy theory, citing a 2006 claim from him that “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world”. This would be the same Mel Gibson who Winona Ryder told GQ magazine had called her an “oven-dodger” at a party, which if true would make him some sort of types-of-anti-Semitism Pokemon champion. Gotta catch ‘em all!
Perhaps with this clangingly ironic casting news, we have now reached a peak (or should that be a nadir?) in what may come to be known as the Post-Weinstein Rehabilitation Era – which has seen Louis CK return to stand-up following revelations that he exposed himself to female comedians, and Chris Hardwick return to podcasting after an investigation by AMC into allegations of sexual and emotional abuse made by Chloe Dykstra, who did not participate in the investigation. Meanwhile, Woody Allen’s A Rainy Day in New York, which was shelved by Amazon last year and disowned by actors including Timothée Chalamet and Selena Gomez, will be released in Italy and other European countries this year. Bohemian Rhapsody, directed by Bryan Singer – who has been repeatedly accused of sexual assault – won four Oscars just three months ago.
Of course, it was always to be expected that the revelations of #MeToo would be followed by a rebound period, since the system that would allow for a proper consideration of these allegations is woefully far from being in effect. Instead, the same old studio heads and festival directors and producers are still in place, handing out jobs to the boys (Rothchild, for instance, finds Gibson re-teaming with his Dragged Across Concrete producer, Keith Kjarval.)
Organisations such as Women and Hollywood (whose director, Melissa Silverstein, pronounced herself unhappy with Gibson’s casting) are still busy protesting the patriarchal nature of the film industry, such as the honouring of Alain Delon with a special award at Cannes this year, despite his admission that he beat his wife.
The news of Gibson’s continued work should perhaps be seen not as a setback in the struggle to establish a system that takes abuse seriously so much as an inevitable speedbump on the way, as the system that upholds his ilk fights to retain its stranglehold on cinema.
Caspar Salmon is a film critic for the Guardian and Prospect magazine.