fbpx
Saturday, October 24, 2020

Shoah Foundation Director: Amazon Must Cancel ‘Hunters’

Print This Article
https://jewishjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/jj_avatar.jpg
Stephen Smith
Stephen D. Smith is Finci-Viterbi executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation.

Hunters,” the heavily promoted new Amazon series about a ring of vigilantes chasing and torturing Nazis in Son of Sam-era New York, is entertaining. It’s also deceptive, voyeuristic, trivializing pulp nonsense that nevertheless claims to be, as its creator says, “representationally truthful.”

As a scholar of genocide and director of a global organization devoted to recording the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, I believe it’s the most egregious distortion of Holocaust history in my lifetime. The series, created by the well-intentioned grandson of a survivor, does not serve the memory of those it purports to respect. And I fear its pernicious blend of fact and fiction risks being weaponized by Holocaust deniers.

Amazon must not renew it for a second season.

I’m not averse to fictionalized depictions of the Holocaust; USC Shoah Foundation grew out of Steven Spielberg’s work on “Schindler’s List.” I learned a great deal from the 1978 miniseries “Holocaust.” I devoured “Man in the High Castle.” And just last year, our foundation partnered with “Jojo Rabbit,” which took us into the minds of 10-year-old Nazis with brutal elegance.

 

But “Hunters is dangerously different.

 

The problem is not the acting. Al Pacino and Carol Kane, in particular, are deeply convincing as survivors of the camps. The problem is not the production values, which are glossy, or the storytelling, which is engrossing.

The problem is the premise. Survivors of the Shoah sought justice, not revenge. Not so in “Hunters.” The series’ specious spectacle of eye-for-eye justice (a term one of the characters uses in the fifth episode) collapses all meaningful differences between victim and perpetrator. There’s a scene in the pilot in which Pacino’s vigilantes gas a former Nazi chemist in her shower, presented with all the dramatic flair of an action movie. Jews never gassed Nazis. Period. That I must even make this point is proof enough how perilous this slippery slope can become.

Much of the criticism of the show has revolved around its fabricated depiction of a human chessboard at Auschwitz. But worse is the invention of fake, especially sadistic Nazis who are presented as “famous,” leaving the viewer to do their own research to discover they never existed. Every day I hear testimonies — real testimonials, from survivors — that are horrific beyond imagination and yet true. If the filmmakers had taken the time and trouble to listen to some real experiences, the flashbacks to the Holocaust in the series could have been real things that happened to real people, rather than the fantasies of scriptwriters.

By blurring the line between fact and fiction, “Hunters muddies the historical record, disrespects those who perished, and provides ammunition to those who seek to deny the truth of the Holocaust.

We have been here before. “The Night Porter,” a 1974 Italian erotic psychological drama about former Nazis hiding their pasts, included depictions of their sadomasochistic activities during the war. The film drew acclaim and derision. Using the symbology of the camps to re-create a past that did not exist, and then sexualizing it, was clearly for the benefit of entertainment. The question became, did this entertainment come at the expense of those who died?

The 1997 comedy “Life Is Beautiful earned three Oscars — including Roberto Benigni  for lead actor — and widespread critical acclaim. But his mining of the Holocaust for comedic entertainment raised questions about using plausible scenarios that hadn’t occurred and thereby instrumentalizing the suffering of those who endured unimaginable horrors.

Similarly, in “Hunters,” the danger of plausible fiction is that it creates a sense of real history, just enough for viewers to suspend disbelief. It then becomes the story, even though it never happened. Later, by “disproving” this invented history, Holocaust deniers can argue that the veracity of all stories can be called into question.

 

When a story straddles the line of reality to make everything seem plausible, it crosses the lines of historical integrity and social good. If even a well-meaning audience can walk away confused about this historicity of the Holocaust, then we have done the work of anti-Semites for them.

When everything becomes possible, nothing becomes real. When anything might be true, everything might be false. The Shoah’s survivors know better. So should Amazon.


Stephen D. Smith is Finci-Viterbi executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation. 

Did you enjoy this article?

You'll love our roundtable.

Enjoyed this article?

You'll love our roundtable.

Select list(s) to subscribe to


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Latest Articles

One Debate Line that Biden Would Like to Have Back

In politics, you don’t win a debate by actually winning a debate. Rather, you win a debate by producing a moment, some type of face-to-face encounter or memorable declaration that will be repeated in news coverage and in digital media.

Jewish Organization Sharsheret Helps Women with Breast and Ovarian Cancer During Pandemic

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s still important for women to maintain their annual OB-GYN appointments and...

Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Judd Apatow to Host ‘Superbad’ Reunion and Watch Party as Democrat Fundraiser

The cast “Superbad” will reunite virtually on Oct. 27 for a livestream of the movie, with actors Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher...

U.S. and Bahrain Agree to MOU Saying Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism

On October 23, the United States and Bahrain signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that included a statement about anti-Zionism being anti-Semitism. The MOU stated...

Israeli Arabs Remain Divided Over Normalization Deals with Gulf States

JNS — The Joint Arab List was alone in voting against the normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates in the Knesset, upsetting many...

Voting is Holy: A Reflection and a Prayer

A Reflection: Life's paradox and promise: continuity across time, minute modifications day by day, as living things reinvent themselves in a flow that shifts caterpillars into butterflies tadpoles into leaping frogs....

Yitzhak Rabin Miniseries ‘The Leader’ in the Works

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995, will be the subject of a six-part miniseries called “The Leader” from L.A.-based...

Report: Anti-Semitic Hate Crimes Rose 18% in LA County

According to the report, the number of anti-Semitic hate crimes in the county in 2019 was 93; in 2018, that number was 79. The report noted that the 93 instances is the largest number of anti-Semitic hate crimes that the county has recorded since 2009.

In a Striking Move, State Department Plans to Label 3 Large Human Rights Groups as Anti-Semitic

WASHINGTON (JTA) — In an unusual move, the State Department is planning to formally identify three large international human rights organizations as anti-Semitic, citing...

A Moment in Time: The Ten Qualities I Expect in my President

Dear all, Earlier this week, Ron and I sat down to cast our votes in the upcoming election. While we poured over the many propositions...

Culture

Jewish Organization Sharsheret Helps Women with Breast and Ovarian Cancer During Pandemic

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s still important for women to maintain their annual OB-GYN appointments and...

Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Judd Apatow to Host ‘Superbad’ Reunion and Watch Party as Democrat Fundraiser

The cast “Superbad” will reunite virtually on Oct. 27 for a livestream of the movie, with actors Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher...

Yitzhak Rabin Miniseries ‘The Leader’ in the Works

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995, will be the subject of a six-part miniseries called “The Leader” from L.A.-based...

The “Borat” Sequel Returns to a Divided America and Struggles to Adapt

“Borat” was, to say the least, very much a product of its time. The 2006 satirical shockumentary aimed to mock the rampant xenophobia and...

The Shepherd’s Pie Tradition

Every Friday morning, my phone would ring. “Boker Tov!” my grandmother would greet me. “You’re coming for dinner?” “Of course,” I would reply. “You’re making Shepherd’s Pie?”...

Latest Articles
Latest

One Debate Line that Biden Would Like to Have Back

In politics, you don’t win a debate by actually winning a debate. Rather, you win a debate by producing a moment, some type of face-to-face encounter or memorable declaration that will be repeated in news coverage and in digital media.

Jewish Organization Sharsheret Helps Women with Breast and Ovarian Cancer During Pandemic

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s still important for women to maintain their annual OB-GYN appointments and...

Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Judd Apatow to Host ‘Superbad’ Reunion and Watch Party as Democrat Fundraiser

The cast “Superbad” will reunite virtually on Oct. 27 for a livestream of the movie, with actors Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher...

U.S. and Bahrain Agree to MOU Saying Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism

On October 23, the United States and Bahrain signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that included a statement about anti-Zionism being anti-Semitism. The MOU stated...

Israeli Arabs Remain Divided Over Normalization Deals with Gulf States

JNS — The Joint Arab List was alone in voting against the normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates in the Knesset, upsetting many...

Hollywood

Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Judd Apatow to Host ‘Superbad’ Reunion and Watch Party as Democrat Fundraiser

The cast “Superbad” will reunite virtually on Oct. 27 for a livestream of the movie, with actors Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher...

‘Dirty Dancing’ Sequel Starring Jennifer Grey Announced

It’s official: A “Dirty Dancing” sequel is coming, and it’s starring Jewish actress Jennifer Grey, who played Frances “Baby” Houseman in the 1987 original.

Roy Moore’s Lawsuit Against Sacha Baron Cohen Over Being Pranked Can Proceed, Judge Rules

By the time the episode aired, it was widely known that Cohen was punking public figures.

Podcasts

Pandemic Times Episode 98: Who Won the Final Debate?

New David Suissa Podcast Every Tuesday and Friday. Reflections on the presidential debate and the rhythms of the Jewish tradition. How do we manage our lives...

Bagels Subsequent Podrecord

Does Sacha Baron Cohen traffic in satire or stumbling blocks? Anticipating Borat 2, Erin and Esther puzzle over the line between deception and shining...

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

x