“It’s always been a rich irony,” writes Rob Long, “that indelibly ‘American’ movies such as Some Like It Hot and High Noon were directed—and in many cases, written and directed—by Jews” whose families had come to America seeking better circumstances, and sometimes fleeing extremely bad ones. But although this irony is well known, not everyone wants to recall it:
[T]he history of Hollywood, which is to say the history of 20th-century American culture, is impossible to talk about without talking about Jews. So it was a surprise to learn that the Academy Museum—a newly opened space dedicated to movies and moviemaking by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, built at a cost of $500 million—doesn’t have much to say about the Jews who made it all happen in the first place.
Indeed, when the museum opened in September, the exhibitions seemed carefully orchestrated to avoid the issue altogether. There were galleries devoted to diversity, to special effects, to women. There were exhibits about cameras and composers and art directors. All the collections are glossy and polished, and the whole museum—much of which can be experienced online—is a fascinating and well-assembled telling of the history of the movie business . . . as long as you don’t notice that there aren’t any Jews in it.
But this was more than a case of “diversity” being understood to include every possible grouping of people besides Jews, or so Long suspects:
After some critics spoke up about the oversight, its directors announced a six-week film and lecture series highlighting the contributions of Austrian Jews. Vienna in Hollywood: Émigrés and Exiles in the Studio System. [But when] the men and women of Vienna in Hollywood arrived in Los Angeles, they found an industry in full bloom. The studios were up and running and making payroll every week, restaurants were full of carousing movie stars, the boulevards were lined with shops and apartment towers—the stage, in other words, had been set.
The men—and they were all men—who did the building, men with names like Goldwyn and Zukor and Warner and Laemmle, had arrived years before. And it’s they who are missing from the galleries and exhibitions of the Academy Museum, and here’s why: because, for the most part, they were rat bastards. . . .
And they also made some amazing motion pictures that helped Americans understand who they were and what they were becoming. Any truthful telling of the history of the movie business needs to tell their story, too. But we’re having a hard time these days figuring out how to tell a warts-and-all tale. We’re still tying ourselves into knots about Thomas Jefferson. . . . So cultural institutions like the Academy Museum elect to sweep the ugly parts off-screen.