The Academy Museum and Jewish Mission in Hollywood


Change is tough, messy, and almost always imperfectly implemented—for two people who like it, there’s at least one who’s ticked off.

No organization knows this better than the film academy. After decades of elitist calcification, it has spent the better part of the last six years making changes, none of which, from the long-overdue expansion of its own membership to its recent decision to drop eight categories from the Oscars’ main broadcast, came without it Argument.

So there was no reason to believe his brand new museum would escape criticism.

And it didn’t. The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures was just after its 2021 opening, with people wondering why in a museum dedicated to a diverse and diverse study of filmmaking, the people who created the industry were largely and alarmingly absent were.

Especially since most of the founders of the industry were Jewish.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has long known that their museum would not take a traditional, chronologically-based approach to “Hollywood history”; It would celebrate the film and the people who make it thematic, with an emphasis on inclusivity. But so many of the early studio leaders, including Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, William Fox, Jack and Harry Warner and Carl Laemmle, had fought anti-Semitism here and in Eastern Europe that their absence seemed very at odds with either celebration of the Films and the desire to be inclusive.

“Without them there would be literally no museum, no industry,” wrote Sharon Rosen Leib in one of the first articles to denounce the lack of Jewish representation.

Or as Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told Rolling Stone, “As I walked through, I literally turned to the person I was there with and said to them, ‘Where are the Jews?'”

“They’re coming,” was the museum’s reply. Bill Kramer, the museum’s director and president, responded to accusations that the museum was wiping out Hollywood’s Jewish roots and was quick to point out that an exhibit dedicated to Hollywood’s founders is due to open in spring 2023, in consultation with museum staff and donors, including alpha donor Haim Saban, it was decided that the exhibition would be permanent.

Officially announced Monday, “Hollywoodland” is one of eight new exhibits coming to the museum over the next 12 months, telling the story of how and why Los Angeles became the hub of filmmaking, with an emphasis on who made it possible has made.

“We always planned to have an exhibit about the founders as part of our first round of rotation,” Kramer said in an interview last month. “This is an origin story of Los Angeles. It is so important for this only film museum to understand why we are in Los Angeles, how did that start?”

Kramer pointed out that one of the first film program series, Vienna in Hollywood: Emigrants and Exiles in the Studio System, specifically addressed the impact of Jewish filmmakers on the world. “It’s an important story to tell this story of oppression,” he said. “Even though these people became very successful, it’s still there.”

“We knew that when we opened, we would get notes from people about things they would like to see,” Kramer said. “More musicals, more comedy, more producer representation – our museum should be a place for this kind of discourse. This is a much bigger problem than what’s happening with our museum, but we can talk about it, about Jewish representation in Hollywood and also in the larger culture.”

By forgoing a permanent collection in favor of endlessly changing exhibits, the Academy Museum has given itself a unique flexibility in approaching its subject. Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971, opening this August, will explore the work of Black filmmakers from the art form’s inception to the civil rights movement. This fall, an in-depth look at the making of The Godfather and an exploration by director Agnes Varda will see exhibitions dedicated to Boyz N the Hood, Casablanca, documentary filmmaker Lourdes Portillo and the Works by production designer Sarah Greenwood and set designer Katie Spencer.

“We have planned for the next five years,” said Kramer. “This is not a museum opening and that’s it. We intentionally created an institution to bring in many stories. They’ve always been there, they just weren’t the dominant narratives. Of course,” he added, “the dominant narratives are important, but we can have both.”

It’s an interesting way to think of a film museum, more an anthology series than a film, but film is the original multiverse, as wide as the sky, as intimate as a beloved face, and its symbiotic relationship with the larger culture is all but impossible to describe.

Shaking off the conventional historical experience – those endless photos of orange groves where the powerful studios would soon stand, etc. – the museum opted for the culture of conversation rather than the tradition of the edifying timeline. It’s a smart move for many reasons, not the least of which is the tight nature of most of these timelines.

However, conversations are just as difficult and messy as the change that often results. Looking at any attempt to increase diversity, it’s easy to fall into a false narrative about identity politics and the tyranny of inclusion—someone’s always unhappy, it seems.

Oh well. We’ve been fed a homogenized portrait of society for so long that the challenge of portraying who we really are, in all our infinite diversity, often seems insurmountable, fueled by lamentations and nagging memories. #Oscarssowhite or “Where are they [fill in the blank]“?

Exactly here. The fillers are and have always been right here, all along, living and working, doing wonderful, terrible, and ordinary things. But too many remain mired in the prejudice and oppression of invisibility. So unless we keep asking, reminding, and demanding, we’re going to get stuck in the same old narrow timelines and selective portraiture.

Call it identity politics if you will, but only in the sense that we must finally identify the true nature of the world.

Now that’s asking a lot of a museum, even a film museum, that has its own history of exclusion and enlightenment. And like the film industry itself, the Academy Museum struggles with a modern world in which collective attention alternately scans the horizon and suddenly absorbs intensely and obsessively down to a granular level. Making it an elevated version of It’s a Small World won’t work.

Certainly it would have made sense to include “Hollywoodland” in the museum’s inaugural exhibit — particularly the fact that an industry still struggling to overcome its own system of disenfranchisement was actually founded by a group of the disenfranchised is worthy of debate in a space so vocal about inclusion.

Now, with any luck, it will be.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-03-21/academy-museum-jewish-film-studio-founders The Academy Museum and Jewish Mission in Hollywood

Caroline Bleakley

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