Hollywoodland: Academy Museum to Address Antisemitic Tropes

December 1923 Dedication of the Hollywoodland sign. Courtesy of Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is vowing to address the antisemitic tropes that are featured in the Hollywoodland exhibit.

Last month, the museum opened their first permanent exhibit: Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital. Unfortunately, it’s not without criticism. Oh, it gets much worse. We’re not talking about small criticism here but the exhibit makes it a point to discuss their flaws. Listen, many of the founders were not perfect but as they say in Some Like It Hot, nobody’s perfect.

The Academy Museum sent the following statement to The Wrap in response to the deserved criticism:

“Some members of the Jewish community have come forward to express some concerns, and [we] are looking at how to address those concerns best while continuing to share an authentic understanding of these complex individuals and the time they lived in. As part of this process, we are continuing to engage with the community members who have come forward with constructive feedback and welcome these conversations. We hope to move quickly and thoughtfully in this process.” 

I’ve read many biographies of the founding Hollywood moguls. They paint a full picture of both the founders and the time period. But at a time when anti-Jewish hate is worsening daily, it’s absolutely disgusting that the exhibit is describing the Jewish founders by their flaws with words such as “oppressive,” “tyrant” “predator” and “frugal.” It gets worse from there as evident by the letter provided to The Wrap. Listen, neither Harry Cohn nor Jack L. Warner were the best-behaved people but a museum exhibit is not the time nor place. Did nobody stop to think about this before the exhibit opened in May? I couldn’t believe initial reports that I read in a piece by Michael Kaplan on Algemeiner but it’s infuriating. How does this happen?!?

During my first visit in 2021, there was a rotating exhibit on display for The Wizard of Oz. Unless I’m mistaken, the exhibit was the only one in which any of the founding Jewish moguls were mentioned. Much like the criticism now, the description of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) co-founder Louis B. Mayer was not as kind. Mayer was one of the first to come up with the idea for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, mostly as a way to push back and defeat the guilds at the time. Of course, you wouldn’t know this from the plaque on display at the time. It closed with the following:

“Mayer could be very demanding of his stars, and the studio kept Garland on a destructive cycle of dieting and pills. Garland later wrote that she was harassed by Mayer for years, though this publicity shot cast him as a benevolent patriarch.”

A plaque describing Louis B. Mayer and MGM on display at The Wizard of Oz exhibit at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in 2021.
A plaque describing Louis B. Mayer and MGM on display at The Wizard of Oz exhibit at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in 2021.

If DEI played a role in the exhibit’s wording, I wonder how many Jews were actively involved. Everything I’ve read points to a double standard for Jews. COME ON! We should be celebrating the founder’s for their achievements, not blasting them for their flaws. I do not blame the number of people who sent blistering criticisms to the Academy Museum over their depictions of the founders.

The exhibit has three major sections:

  • Studio Origins
  • Los Angeles: From Film Frontier to Industry Town, 1902–1929
  • From the Shtetl to the Studio: The Jewish Story of Hollywood

For as many flaws listed, I do not recall seeing any criticism towards the Production Code on display during my visits in 2021 or 2022. If we want to talk serious criticism about the movies produced during the Golden Age, we cannot ignore the Hays Office and the Production Code Administration under any circumstances. Both Will Hays and Joseph Breen were brought in during the 1920s and 1930s when Hollywood was facing scandals and boycotts. Joseph Breen was a raging antisemite and strictly enforced the Hays Code aka Motion Picture Production Code while administering the PCA during 1934-1954. Following his retirement, the enforcement was not as strict with the rise of TV, filmmakers pushing boundaries, etc. By that time, many Jewish Hollywood founders were dead or soon to retire.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.