The Reader, nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress (Kate Winslet) and five other Academy Awards, essentially is an examination of how a nation, Germany, chooses to deal with the sins of its past.
And yet, some have attacked the movie as a “Holocaust denial film,” saying that Winslet, who has already been honored with a Golden Globe and a Bafta, was too sympathetic in her portrayal of a female prison camp guard.
Mark Weitzman, head of The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said “Essentially it takes a woman who serves in, is responsible for, is complicit in, you pick the words, in the deaths of at least 300 Jews – and her big secret shame is that she’s illiterate.”
The London Jewish Cultural Centre’s head, Trudy Gold, in an interview with Jewish News, also expressed her displeasure with the movie.
“This is just one of a spate of films portraying sympathetic Nazis. This woman acted monstrously, there’s no question about that. The question is have we gotten to the point where we have to make heroines out of Nazis? I do find it a bit sick.”
The talent behind the film, including director Stephen Daldry, David Hare, whose screenplay was adapted from the German bestseller, producer Donna Gigliotti and studio owner Harvey Weinstein, are striking back.
So are leading Jewish voices, including author and activist Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Here’s the joint statement issued by the filmmakers (caps are theirs), courtesy of the movie’s publicists:
“We are proud of The Reader and everyone who made this film. It is outrageous and insulting that people have called it a “Holocaust denial film.” While entitled to their opinion, these allegations are fueled by ignorance and a misunderstanding of the material, and are based on unsubstantiated arguments.
The greatest films elicit great debate and conversation. Unfortunately, the recent attacks on The Reader have generated debates, not about the substance of the film, but about what people believe to be the intent of the filmmakers. To take a piece of art that was constructed with the hard work of many talented people and turn it into propaganda is plain ignorant. No one is suggesting that The Reader must be beloved by everyone. On the contrary, there is always room for criticism. If one does not like the film that is one matter; but to project one’s personal bias on the filmmaker’s objective is wrong and something we could no longer remain silent about.
The Reader is a film about how a generation of Germans lived in the shadow of one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century. Some detractors of the film have said that it is a piece of Holocaust revisionism; however Holocaust survivors, children of Holocaust survivors and a Nobel Peace Prize winner feel differently.
Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, has praised The Reader as “a film that deals powerfully with Germany’s reconciliation with its past.” He said that ‘it is not about the Holocaust; it is about what Germany did to itself and its future generations.’ He called it ‘a faithful adaptation of an important book, that is still relevant today as genocide continues to be practiced around the world.’ ”
Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti Defamation League, concurs, according to a press release:
“As we move further away from the Holocaust we must continue to tell the story of the Shoah in ways that will reach and touch new generations. The Reader, which takes place in post-WWII Germany, clearly portrays the horrors of the Holocaust, not visually but intellectually and emotionally. There is no doubt to what Kate Winslet’s character, Hannah Schmitz, did during the war. Her guilt is given. At her trial her crimes are portrayed in detail and she is brought to justice for them. The Reader is not meant to be a factual re-telling of the Holocaust; for that we have documentaries. Rather it is about guilt and responsibility that is as important for our times as it was for post-war Germans.”
Will any of the folks associated with the movie, or anyone else, allude to the controversy during the Oscar ceremonies on Sunday night?