Is the Academy's New Museum Neglecting the Jewish Pioneers of Hollywood?Breaking News
tags: museums, Jewish history, Hollywood, movies, popular culture, Cinema
After over a decade of delay caused by money problems, competing narrative visions and the COVID-19 pandemic, the $484 million Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles has finally opened to the public. The Academy heralds its new museum as the most important institution devoted to filmmaking in the world, and one visit bears this out: it is a must see for any cinema lover.
The capacious edifice is tricked out with meaningful exhibits, the latest digital and sound technology and two well-appointed theaters—the 1,000-seat, spherical David Geffen Theater is a sight to behold.
I hoped the museum would also pay homage to the motion picture pioneers who birthed the industry in the early 1900s and reflect the history of families like mine.
But after touring the museum’s seven stories, I discovered that Hollywood’s pioneers, who busted their tucheses building the industry it celebrates, ended up on the cutting room floor.
“We want to attract many different audiences. We want people to see themselves in our programs and exhibitions featuring highly known objects and films as well as lesser-known filmmakers. We aim to create dialogue,” Doris Berger, the museum’s senior director of curatorial affairs, told the Forward.
So, what does the museum’s inaugural main exhibit “Stories of Cinema,” interspersed throughout the first three floors, include? Museum Director Bill Kramer created an Inclusion Advisory Committee to spotlight the work of diverse filmmakers and explore historical omissions – a worthy goal considering the film industry’s notoriously poor record at elevating women and people of color.
The exhibit includes the work of early 20th century Black motion picture pioneer Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951) who produced prowerful films for Black audiences; Asian martial arts legend Bruce Lee; Latinx director Patricia Cardoso and her moving 2002 film “Real Women Have Curves” about Latinx women in East Los Angeles; and Spike Lee, the Black auteur whose films have served up brilliant social commentary for three decades. All these artists richly deserve recognition.
But what of the Jews who laid the foundation upon which they built their careers?
I’m sensitive to this because Hollywood history is my family’s history. My great-grandfather Sol M. Wurtzel came to Hollywood in 1917 to run Fox Studio for his boss William Fox. Sol worked at the studio until 1950, frequently putting in 60-hour weeks and producing 700 movies along the way. He joined the Motion Picture Academy at its inception in 1927.