The Gaza conflict touched the film business this month when dealmakers and filmmakers ran for a bomb shelter as shelling got too close at the Jerusalem Film Festival, and when Israeli filmmakers Ronit Elkabetz, Keren Yedaya, and Shlomi Elkabetz urged their government to seek a truce with Hamas. The attention on the world stage spiked today when Spanish Oscar winners Pedro Almodovar, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz put signatures to a statement expressing outrage over “the genocide perpetrated by the Israeli occupation army in the Gaza Strip against Palestinian civilians.” Stars who take political positions on world issues do so at their own peril and at the risk of hurting their business by polarizing potential audiences.
The strongly worded open letter (Spanish text here), is harsh, accusing Israel of practicing “State terrorism.” Others have chimed in about the Arab-Israeli tensions, like Miral director Julian Schnabel, who told Deadline he was shocked when traveling in Israel with that book’s writer (and his then-girlfriend) Rula Jebreal and how she was degraded as a matter of course in settlement areas. “It was an epiphany,” he said. “I was totally naïve, totally in the dark and I believe so many of the American Jewish population are totally in the dark. We cannot believe that a Jewish person would behave like that. It’s not the Jewish way. We have suffered so much that if anybody should understand the Palestinian problem, it should be Jewish people. It was so disappointing and ashamed at certain moments. I was at the airport one day, leaving with Rula. I respect the security, when they check your bags. But they took her bags and put them through an X-ray machine not once but three times. We went to a second checkpoint and they made her strip and, the last minute, let her come on the airplane Jon Kilik and I were taking. And it felt just like apartheid, there was absolutely no reason for it. It was pure racism and prejudice. It was cruel and I was ashamed of everybody in that airport.”
There is a tradition of stars speaking out on everything from the Hollywood Blacklist to Vietnam (Jane Fonda will never be known as anything but Hanoi Jane by a certain segment of the population), and the pros and cons of gun control. Some stars just don’t seem to care about polarizing audiences. Like Sean Penn, a patron saint of Haiti for his tireless humanitarian work there raised hackles when he defended Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and called on the U.S. government to end sanctions; or Jim Carrey, who has made bold appeals for gun control each time another school massacre occurs.