Ron Rosenbaum‘s blistering anti-Reader piece on Slate (“Don’t Give an Oscar to The Reader“) went up on Monday, February 9th. Three days later , on 2.12.09, Rod Lurie‘s similar criticism piece (“The Holocaust Revisionism of Hollywood”) appeared on the Huffington Post. Five days later — Tuesday, 2.17 — the Oscar balloting deadline arrived and the voting issue became moot.
Nonetheless it’s taken Harvey Weinstein, Reader director Stephen Daldry, Reader screenwriter David Hare and producer Donna Gigliotti until today, 2.20 — eight days after the Lurie article, 11 days after the Rosenbaum — to send out a press release arguing with “fringe criticism” of their film.
If you’re going to wait this long, guys, why even bother? If you want to try and shape a debate, you need to retort hours later, or certainly no more than a day or so after the initial blow has been struck. Waiting 11 days is like waiting 11 weeks.
“We are proud of The Reader and everyone who made this film,” theri statement begins. “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, the ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor agrees with Mr. Wiesel. ‘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.’
“Unfortunately,” the statement concludes, “we live in a world where Holocaust denial still exists. Just a few weeks ago, the Vatican made headlines when the Pope lifted the excommunication of a Catholic Bishop who made statements denying the full extent of the Holocaust. In today’s world, with the recent genocides in Darfur, Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia, there are enough signs that bigotry still exists to an alarming degree. Denial and revisionist history of some of the greatest atrocities of our time can only lead to further violence and horrors.
“The Reader is a film that has sparked controversy and it is not something we are shying away from. In this day and age we need healthy debate but what some have written is mudslinging at its worst and we think it is time to rise above it.”
Mr. Rosenbaum and Mr. Lurie — the floor is yours. That is, if you still care at this point.