Mel Gibson has come under fire by the Anti-Defamation League over a report that says he is developing a movie about Judah Maccabee, who led a Jewish revolt against Greek and Syrian forces during biblical times and whose victory is celebrated during the Hanukkah holiday.
Gibson, who won an Oscar for playing a rebellion leader himself in the 1996 film "Braveheart," has struggled to resurrect his career following a 2006 drunk driving arrest, during which he ranted against Jews. He has said that neither he nor his 2004 film "The Passion of the Christ," which also stirred controversy, are anti-Semitic.
The Anti-Defamation League's national director, Abraham H. Foxman, said in a statement that it would be a "travesty to have the story of the Maccabees told by one who has no respect and sensitivity for other people's religious views. While we do not argue with Mel Gibson's right to make this film, we still strongly believe that Warner Bros. should reconsider Gibson's involvement in this project."
Warner Bros. Pictures had no immediate comment on the Deadline.com report or the group's remarks. Gibson's spokesperson said it was not "appropriate to respond as it seems their statement is directed at the studio."
Gibson has in the past also been criticized by pro-Jewish groups and scores of viewers over his portrayal of Jews in "The Passion of the Christ," which depicted the final hours of the life of Jesus. Gibson has said he consulted with numerous scholars and religion experts before making the movie and aimed to make the crucifixion scene as realistic as possible.
"Not only has Mel Gibson shown outward antagonism toward Jews and Judaism in his public statements and actions, but his previous attempt to bring biblical history to life on the screen was marred by anti-Semitism," Foxman said. "As a hero of the Jewish people and a universal hero in the struggle for religious liberty, Judah Maccabee deserves better."
The actor was himself raised Catholic and helps to fund a private, multi-million dollar church in Malibu, California. Gibson issued an apology after his 2006 arrest, during which he allegedly said: "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." He pleaded no contest to the DUI charge and was sentenced to three years of probation and underwent alcohol rehabilitation.
"Please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite," he said in a statement at the time. "I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith."Following the arrest, the ABC television network pulled a program about the Holocaust that his company was producing, saying that it did not receive a script on time. and director Rob Reiner told the Associated Press at the time that the apology wasn't enough to redeem him. He also said Gibson must acknowledge that "his work reflects anti-Semitism," particularly "The Passion of the Christ."
Gibson's public image took another blow last summer when a taped conversation between himself and ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva was posted online. He is heard making racist remarks against black people as well as sexist comments. He told Deadline.com in April 2011, amid a custody battle with Grigorieva, that his rants were edited. She denied this.
In December, actress Winona Ryder, who is Jewish, said in an interview with GQ that Gibson once made an anti-Semitic comment and told a "really horrible gay joke" in front of her while drunk. He has not responded to her comments.
"The Passion of the Christ" was a box office success, earning $611 million worldwide. His movie "Apocalypto," which was released after his arrest, was profitable as well, making $120 million worldwide. But Gibson's film career has largely struggled since the 2006 incident.
"Edge of Darkness," which featured Gibson as the main character, a homicide detective, barely broke even on its $80 million production budget after its release in January 2010. The following October, it was reported that Gibson's planned cameo in the anticipated movie "The Hangover - Part II" was canceled. The reason was not made public. Director Todd Phillips said the decision to include him "did not have the full support of my entire cast and crew."
"The Beaver," which was released earlier this year and stars Gibson as a depressed father who uses a beaver hand puppet as his only way of communication, was a box office flop. It earned $6.3 million worldwide and less than $1 million domestically. Its production budget was $21 million.
Despite his turmoil, Gibson has been praised by actresses such as Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence, who starred with him in "The Beaver." Foster has said the actor is a "beautiful man". Lawrence, a rising star who has the main role in the upcoming "Hunger Games" film, said Gibson was "incredible" at what he does" and joked that he should have won an Oscar just for the way he read the script of The Beaver."