Culture, Global, Identity, Justice, Politics

Kate Winslet does not exploit Holocaust movies, Bradley Burston

I’m more than a little bummed that Waltz with Bashir did not win the Oscar. Not that I’ve seen the film that won, but it’s a break from the typical Jewish films up for Oscars which are always about the Holocaust. Seriously, it’s time to find another good-vs-evil setting in which we can inspire ourselves that We Westerners did a Good Job.
But Bradley Burston on Haaretz goes too far — and make a huge bumble along the way. Not only does he say that Hollywood prefers its Jews as perpetually victimized innocents (convenient as that is to most Jews’ self-narrative, barfitty barf barf) but he misquotes Kate Winslet as exploiting the preference for an Oscar. Check this clip via YouTube, which you can also hear used onNPR in a segement about Holocaust obsession in film:

Whoa! But hang on a minute. Bradley Burston has not done his homework. Apparently this clip of Winslet was on the HBO show Extra and she’s satirizing herself and her lack of Oscar trophies despite thrice-over nominations — and three years ago at that. This interview seems to claim some innocence:

“It was only midway through the movie that someone said, ‘Oh, isn’t it funny. It’s like that episode of Extras,’ ” Winslet recalled the other day. “It hadn’t occurred to me, largely because I don’t think of it as a Holocaust movie: If anything, it’s a love story…It’s sort of a post-Holocaust love story. But yes, the irony, I can see it’s amusing.”

Now Burtson has a point: Beaufort, another Israeli film about in Lebanon lost an Oscar last year to a film in which a Jewish concentration camp prisoner forges currency for the Nazis. And you can say what you will about satirizing the Holocaust. And you can say what you will about the moral clean slate that the Holocaust and World War II grants American and Jewish audiences.
But precisely for the point that he says this film should win — “Waltz with Bashir was not made for Hollywood, it was made for human beings” — is precisely the reason it didn’t. The film spoke to Israeli audiences because it relives themes rooted more deeply than Zionism. In American audiences, it gives the barest glimmer of understanding of what burying your wartime experiences must feel like. In American Jewish audiences, it introduces heartfelt culpability and the potential for shame into a dynamic that is otherwise chock full of pre-fabricated pride. But they’re only tastes of feelings that Israeli soldiers already feel. Particularly after my work with Breaking the Silence this time last year, I must argue that those feelings lurk in the psyche of every combat soldier.
Having just reconnected with a high school friend who spent two tours in Iraq and is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a combat medic…I look a little differently on the impact of this film on us non-combatants in the Diaspora and on the average Israeli, most specifically Israelis who served in combat roles.
The animation and voice-acting is all that would give this film an award, not the topic itself. In fact, it’s such an Israeli-oriented film that all but the most educated moviegoer leaves the theater asking, “Why were we in Lebanon again? And when did we leave?” Every Israeli knows. But out here, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and Makom have to produce a viewers’ guide so we get it.
It’s worth remembering that it didn’t lose — it just didn’t win. Getting to the Oscars is still amazing. And the message of the film is still stunning. But it’s more stunning to the Israelis. And perhaps it’s better that way.

6 thoughts on “Kate Winslet does not exploit Holocaust movies, Bradley Burston

  1. Movie commentary is above my head 🙂
    I don’t know if it’s fair to say that Hollywood prefers Jews as perpetual victims, but in more general terms, I’ve found it to be true that many people wish to identify with victims, because they see themselves as victims. After all, who doesn’t love a good victim? You can empathize with their suffering, then claim the moral high ground and the mantle of all that is good and decent to defend them.
    Once that victim asserts themselves and relies on their own fortitude to resist being victimized, they suddenly become no longer so innocent and infallible. I’ll leave the obvious parallels to you blogsters.

  2. Funny, I don’t hear anyone morally criticizing the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto rising up, or Americans rebelling against British oppression… or for that matter ANY ragtag rebel group “relying on their fortitude to resist being victimized”. Could it be that the parallel you’re trying to draw doesn’t work?

  3. The Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto were facing complete extermination. Despite being starved for years, they only took up arms when it was clear they were headed for certain death. They had nothing left to lose. Those who use that comparison today are attempting to tap into a store of enormous heroism and bravery to justify modern day terrorism and barbarity.
    As for the British, they crossed the ocean and went back home. I don’t see how the analogy is relevant.

  4. I agree with you, Ben, about Bashir and particularly in your critique of the Holocaust industry (films as a major subset of this) as a basically vile, self-sustaining cycle of claiming victimhood and moral superiority…
    AND I think that it’s weirdly disingenuous to say that “Hollywood likes its Jews X or Y” when yes, come on, Hollywood was created and is disproportionately run by Jews. It’s not a conspiracy or an Elders of Zion scenario to say so. I think this affects what movies get made more than what movies get awards, and I’m personally Done With Holocaust Movies for now: thoroughly sick of the whole story as a cipher for Good/Evil. And duh, Winslet! this is not a post-Holocaust-love-story movie, that’s not innocent, that’s just naive.
    The other thing about Holocaust movies–Jews aside–they provide a setting of grim, graphic beauty and intensely refined violence. Fascism is appealing, especially on film–who doesn’t love flags and marching and music and iconography and large numbers of people in matching outfits doing something together? Who doesn’t thrill a little bit to the basic kink in humans dominating and subjugating others? Holocaust movies are basically moral porn.
    Jews in pop culture are still, yes, starving in the camps, hunched over their prayerbooks, getting nosejobs, underwriting Saks, plowing up the kibbutz, ad nauseam. Jews aren’t victims of this dynamic, we inhabit it, create it, respond to it, reject it, whatever–and sadly the mass-culture makers (Hollywood, Jewish and otherwise) are major engines of these tired tropes. Which are sometimes accurate!

  5. the shoa business is a joke.
    to most jews.
    christians have been browbeaten to death with the fact that no bad jew exists.
    Or ever has.
    Or will.

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