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Academy Museum to Revise Exhibit on Hollywood Jewish History Following Backlash

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Following backlash from a group of Jewish activists, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles announced Monday it will revise its new exhibit on Hollywood’s Jewish roots.

The museum noted in a statement to the The Hollywood Reporter on Monday that it had “heard the concerns from members of the Jewish community” and that it was “committed to making changes to the exhibition to address them.”

“We will be implementing the first set of changes immediately — they will allow us to tell these important stories without using phrasing that may unintentionally reinforce stereotypes,” the museum said, also noting they are “convening an advisory group of experts from leading museums focused on the Jewish community, civil rights and the history of other marginalized groups to advise us on complex questions about context and any necessary additions to the exhibition’s narrative.”

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Days earlier, the institution had also noted they were listening to activists’ concerns.

The exhibit, titled Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital, opened officially on May 19, and was quickly met with criticism from many Jewish activists for its sometimes-negative portrayal of the Jewish studio founders, which some argued was antisemitic.

An open letter from a group called United Jewish Writers obtained by THR on Monday wrote that “while we acknowledge the value in confronting Hollywood’s problematic past, the despicable double standard of the Jewish Founders exhibit, blaming only the Jews for that problematic past, is unacceptable and, whether intentional or not, antisemitic. We call on the Academy Museum to thoroughly redo this exhibit so that it celebrates the Jewish founders of Hollywood with the same respect and enthusiasm granted to those celebrated throughout the rest of the museum.”

Specifically, the letter writers objected to the presence of the words “tyrant,” “oppressive,” “womanizer” and “predator” in the exhibit’s wall text. They also wrote that Hollywoodland was “the only section of the museum that vilifies those it purports to celebrate.”

But others noted that those descriptors were accurate when applied to the specific leaders highlighted in the exhibit. “This was always going to be the issue putting Louis B. Mayer and Harry Cohn and co. in the museum — their legacies are extremely mixed,” The New Yorker staff writer Michael Schulman wrote on X. “Including them is good; whitewashing them is not.”

The exhibit was heavily based on Neal Gabler’s 1989 book An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, widely considered a definitive historical account of the industry’s founding.

The museum announced the changes before the letter’s circulation, but later reports stated it was signed by more than 300 individuals.

Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital was initially announced in response to criticism following the museum’s 2022 opening regarding the institution’s lack of acknowledgement of Hollywood’s Jewish past.

“If you’re going to have a museum in Los Angeles tied to the Academy that celebrates arguably the most significant art form of the 20th century, how is it possible not to acknowledge the Jewish men who started it all?” said producer John Goldwyn at the time, grandson of Sam Goldwyn, whose executive endeavors a century ago led to the formation of both Paramount and MGM. “It’s an egregious oversight.”

The new exhibition is meant to highlight the role that Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer and other Jewish immigrants played in founding the American film industry.

The exhibit’s curator, Dara Jaffe, told THR in May that “this story was one we always planned to tell,” but acknowledged that “we were definitely very aware” of the criticism regarding the exhibit’s delay.

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