Woman in Gold
Honored for her starring role in Woman in Gold, a 2015 film about American émigré Maria Altmann’s ultimately successful legal efforts to reclaim a painting – stolen decades earlier from her family by the Nazis – from the Austrian government, Dame Helen Mirren has continued to speak out on behalf of Holocaust restitution. It was her involvement with the movie that raised her consciousness and helped to catalyze her empathy for this cause.
Testifying before the U.S. Congress in support of expanded legislation in June 2016, Mirren noted that “what was so extraordinary specifically about Maria Altmann's world, the Viennese world… this glorious time in Vienna that was so full of culture and art…. And being in Vienna and shooting the film and seeing those beautiful houses that were built by the Jewish community, I realized it was a Jewish culture. It was – [the perception that] this beautiful memory of Vienna and the music and its painting was actually created by the Jewish people.”
Intended to appeal to the social media generation, the 2019 Italian documentary #AnneFrank. Parallel Stories now being screened at Jewish film festivals and movie theaters in the U.S., brings Dame Helen into the spotlight again. Filmed in a setting resembling the Frank family’s hiding place in Amsterdam, Mirren provides historical background, reads excerpts from Anne’s diary, and introduces filmgoers to the stories of other young women who experienced persecution during those terrible times. A modern retelling of Anne’s story, the movie celebrates her legacy during her 90th birthday year in what is described as “profound new ways.”
Playwright/actor Jesse Eisenberg portrays legendary mime Marcel Marceau in the new movie, Resistance. Born Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg, France, he was the son of a kosher butcher, who turned to the stage in his adolescence and joined the French resistance in Paris during the Nazi occupation at age 16 in 1939. He was tasked with assisting other Jews to hide or escape the country. In an interview about Resistance, Eisenberg said that “[Marcel Marceau] was asked to save these kids who his cousin was saving. He is reluctant at first, but then realizes that the way to save their lives is to use his art [to entertain and keep the children quiet].” The film, which premieres on March 27, will be shown in theaters as well as On Demand.
On its opening night this month, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screened the world premiere of Shared Legacies, Shari Rogers’ documentary about the civil rights movement in the 1960s, in which she focuses on how the bond between Jews and African Americans was shaped by Old Testament narratives and texts, often quoted by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and a mutual history of oppression. After a visit to Detroit’s Charles Wright Museum of African American History, Rogers asked King’s attorney and speechwriter, Clarence B. Jones, to talk about Jewish participation in the fight against prejudice in the south and what he told her inspired the movie, which seems especially informative to people under the age of 40, who Rogers says knew nothing about this relationship.
Revealed through though archival materials and interviews with celebrities who lived through those times, including Louis Gossett, Jr. and Harry Belafonte, as well as historians and scholars like Hebrew Union College-Cincinnati historian Gary Zola, Jews – civil rights workers, attorneys, rabbis, and other Jewish people from all walks of life – were fully committed to, and sometimes lost their lives for the cause of racial justice.
The film also includes a segment on the first public, integrated dinner in Atlanta honoring King after he had received the Nobel Peace Prize, hosted by activists Rabbi Jacob Rothschild and his wife, Janice, who married David Blumberg, B’nai B’rith’s president from 1971-78, after she was widowed.
Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B'nai B'rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.
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