One of the biggest stories in Hollywood over the past week has been the falling-out between Mel Gibson and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. Gibson, in a move that that garnered justifiable skepticism from those of us offended by his repeated expressions of anti-Semitism, planned to make a movie about the Maccabees, an army of Jewish rebels who reconquered Judea and expelled its Greek occupiers, reestablishing the Temple and experiencing the miracle of lights that’s the basis for Hanukkah. Eszterhas was supposed to be writing the script. Warner Brothers rejected the script. Eszterhas released an exceedingly lengthy letter full of allegations that Gibson had behaved bizarrely, frighteningly, and in a way that indicated he continues to despise Jews. Gibson said that Eszterhas was covering up for the fact that the script was a disaster. Whatever the truth is, two things remain. First, it would be nice to mine Jewish history and scripture for awesome movies. Second, these two should probably stay far away from these stories. But here are five ideas that someone else should take up!
1. Deborah and Yael: Jewish men aren’t the only potential badasses who would make for great movie heroes. Deborah’s the wife of a commander who made her husband promise at the beginning of a war that a woman would have the honor of killing the enemy commander. Said enemy commander wanders into Yael’s tent, upon which she takes care of him, lulls him to sleep, and hammers a peg through his temple, killing him. Quentin Tarantino would approve.
2. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: It doesn’t have a happy ending. But trying something incredibly brave and humanity-restoring in the face of certain defeat isn’t any less brave. And the decision by Warsaw’s Jews to resist transportation to the Treblinka concentration camp is tremendously moving.
3. Esther and Mordecai: This is a great story about the reembrace of identity even under incredible odds. Esther, the secretly Jewish wife of a Persian emperor decides to break the rules that govern her contact with her husband when she learns that one of his advisors plans to manipulate him into a pogrom against the Jews in his kingdom. That defiance of convention at great personal risk to Esther makes for great drama. And Esther’s relationship with her cousin Mordecai, who raised her after she was left an orphan, is also a wonderful story of a friendship between a man and a woman without the slightest hint of sex in it. There’s a relatively recent, but decidedly indie movie on the subject.
4. The Book of Joshua: If you want a pioneer story, Joshua, which documents the settlement of the land and the clashes with the people who already live in the areas the descents of the Twelve Tribes want to settle. This is as close to a Jewish Western as we’re going to get. It could be a story that touches a lot of nerves. But it’s go an epic sweep, and contemporary relevance.
5. People of the Book: Text is important in Judaism, so why not tell an awesome story about the survival of a Torah? Geraldine Brooks’ novel People of the Book imagines the survival of the Sarajevo Haggadah through occupation, Inquisition, pogrom and war. It would make a terrific series of short films, and it’s a great testament to the almost religious power of art, even to people who don’t share the religion that art is created in service of.