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The Los Angeles Academy Museum initially excluded Hollywood's Jewish origins. A new exhibition about the pioneers of Jewish cinema corrects that problem.

The Los Angeles Academy Museum initially excluded Hollywood's Jewish origins.  A new exhibition about the pioneers of Jewish cinema corrects that problem.

 


ANGELS (JTA) Today's understanding of Hollywood, of glitz, glamor, red carpets and paparazzi, is a far cry from the film industry's humble beginnings, when a group of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe cast the foundations of what would become an epicenter of American and world culture. .

The new exhibition “Hollywood: Jewish Founders and the Creation of a Cinema Capital” at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. (Josh White, JWPimages/Academy Museum Foundation)

That's the story told by a new exhibition at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, which opens Sunday. Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Cinematic Capital traces the history and legacy of Hollywood's Jewish pioneers of the early 20th century, such as the Warner Brothers, Louis B. Mayer, Adolph Zukor and others. This is the museum's first permanent exhibition.

The exhibit's debut comes two and a half years after the museum's opening, which sparked controversy among supporters and visitors for not including the industry's Jewish beginnings.

Jacqueline Stewart, director and president of the museum, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that community feedback helped the museum modify its content and influenced its decision to make the exhibit permanent.

“I really think we're able to present this exhibit now in a better way than it would have been if we had tried to tell the story when we opened,” Stewart said during a preview. -premiere with the press. Because we understand our audience better.

Dara Jaffe, the exhibit's curator, said she held listening sessions and spoke to a number of rabbis and other members of the Jewish community in Los Angeles and across the country to raise as much comments as possible.

I talked to everyone who contacted me, Jaffe said. Everyone who called or emailed, I wanted to hear from them. And above all, we wanted a lot of attention to be paid to this subject. We didn't want anyone to be surprised by the content. We wanted people to know exactly what to expect and to feel like their voices were being heard.

Curator Dara Jaffe, left, and Academy Museum President Jacqueline Stewart during a press preview of the new Hollywoodland exhibit, May 16, 2024. (Jacob Gurvis)

Stewart also highlighted the exhibit's bilingual presentation, the exhibits all include English and Spanish, and its permanence as a sign of the importance of Hollywoodland's history.

It provides an access point to that history that we didn't have when the museum opened, Stewart said, referring to the Spanish-language offerings. It's about listening to a diverse range of voices and understanding that we really need to be the place to tell the story of this industry. And this story of the industry is a story about Jewish immigrants and the world they built in Los Angeles.

For Jaffe and Stewart, the new exhibit is also personal: Jaffe is Jewish, as are Stewart's children.

I have a lot of concerns about my children, their safety, their sense of identity, Stewart said. I was really encouraged by the way this exhibition was put together, because I think there are so many young Jews who will take a sense of pride from it.

For Jaffe, highlighting each founder's Jewish identity was an integral part of telling Hollywood history, particularly because of the influence of anti-Semitism on their careers.

We examine how a dominant culture of anti-Semitism not only shaped how these Jewish founders were drawn to the industry, but also how they were treated even after being at the top of that industry they have built, Jaffe said.

Jaffe, who has been working on the current version of the exhibit for more than two years, said she hopes it will serve as an educational resource, especially as anti-Semitism, including conspiracy theories that Jews run Hollywood, persists today.

The same kind of anti-Semitic rhetoric that was directed at Hollywood's Jewish founders is still directed at Hollywood Jews today, Jaffe said. So we see this as a very important educational platform to dispel these harmful anti-Semitic stereotypes, to provide some clarity and precision about why the founding of Hollywood is a story of Jewish immigrants.

The exhibition, located on the third floor of the museum, has three main sections. Los Angeles: From Film Frontier to Industry Town, 1902-1929 features a digital topographical map of Los Angeles and a wall-mounted video display depicting the city's landscape and its progression, highlighting major landmarks that contributed to its growth of the Warner Brothers film industry. Studios at influential Jewish sites such as the Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

A view of the topographical map inside the Hollywoodland exhibit. (Josh White, JWPimages/Academy Museum Foundation)

The second installment, titled Studio Origins, is a long series of panels detailing the history of the Hollywood studio system, highlighting the eight studios known as the majors and their Jewish founders. In addition to archival documents, images from early studios, film posters and behind-the-scenes footage from film sets, the exhibits mention the Jewish origins of each founder.

In the section devoted to Paramount, founded by Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky, the exhibit explains that Zukor aimed to elevate the artistic status of films in order to gain a social respectability otherwise out of reach for a Jewish immigrant. The idea of ​​assimilation and raising the visibility of an initially modest industry is the anchor of the exhibition.

The Warner Bros. exhibition highlights Harry and Jack Warner's early stand against Nazism, when polls and public discourse still indicated it was an unpopular position in the United States.

In the Universal installment, there is a 1938 letter written by studio founder Carl Laemmle, in which he outlines his concern for European Jewry. Laemmle would help hundreds escape Nazi Germany.

The third installment of the Hollywoodland exhibition is a 30-minute documentary, From the Shtetl to the Studio: The Jewish History of Hollywood, which traces the rise of Jewish studio executives and their countless impacts on the industry and on Los Angeles .

Narrated by television host Ben Mankiewicz, the grandson of legendary screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (the subject of the film Mank), the documentary follows the Hollywood pioneers from their humble beginnings as working-class immigrants to their gradual rise to power, all while overcoming deep-rooted anti-Semitism that permeated the United States and Los Angeles to cause of calls for boycotts and discriminatory real estate practices. to anti-Semitic leaders like Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin.

The film also focuses on the studio founders' desire to fit in during a time when assimilation was crucial to success in America. Louis B. Mayer, for example, co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, was born Lazar Meir, while his co-founder Samuel Goldwyn was born Szmuel Gelbfisz.

The dream was to be assimilated and accepted as true Americans in their new country, the documentary says from the start. The fear was that a dominant culture of anti-immigration and anti-Semitism would hinder their progress, keeping them marginalized, vulnerable and powerless. For this group of Jewish immigrants, these two motivations led to the creation of Hollywood and combined to form a force that could redefine their lives and ours.

The film also explores how, as leaders sought to portray their idealistic interpretations of the American dream in their films, this meant deferring to the cultural zeitgeist of the time, which often excluded or misrepresented women, people of color and members of the LGBT community. . It also meant suppressing their own Jewish identity.

This empire could be destroyed at any time by anti-Semitic forces who constantly questioned the admission of Hollywood Jews to America, the documentary claims. If their Jewish identity became visible in their films, they would suffer the consequences.

For Jaffe, even if the events of recent months, namely the Hamas attack of October 7, the war between Israel and Hamas and the global rise of anti-Semitism, have not influenced the content of the exhibition, she said the current climate accentuates the need for accurate storytelling. .

Unfortunately, anti-Semitism has always been prevalent and remains so, so this story still remains relevant, Jaffe said. There have been so many times over the last couple of years where I have wished this exhibit was open so I could show it and say, if you would like to be informed on this topic, please come to the Museum of Academy, well tell you exactly why. . And so I'm just glad it's finally open.


The post office The Los Angeles Academy Museum initially excluded Hollywood's Jewish origins. A new exhibition about the pioneers of Jewish cinema corrects that problem. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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