Academy Museum to Highlight Hollywood’s Jewish History After All

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Having initially drawn criticism for failing to acknowledge the formative role that Jewish immigrants like Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer played in creating Hollywood and the film industry, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on Thursday announced the details of a new permanent exhibition that will spotlight their contributions.

The show, called “Hollywoodland,” is scheduled to open May 19, the museum said in its news release, and will spotlight “the impact of the predominately Jewish filmmakers whose establishment of the American film studio system transformed Los Angeles into a global epicenter of cinema.”

When the museum opened in 2021, it made a point of highlighting the contributions of women, artists of color and people from other backgrounds, but there was barely a mention of the Jewish immigrants who were central to founding the Hollywood studio system — titans like Harry and Jack Warner, Adolph Zukor, Goldwyn and Mayer.

The omission, coming at a time of growing concerns about antisemitism, drew complaints from Jewish leaders and concern from the museum’s supporters, many of whom saw it as example of Hollywood’s strained relationship with its Jewish history. Striving to assimilate, Hollywood’s founders feared being identified as Jews.

The museum’s permanent exhibition about Jewish contributions is called “Hollywoodland.” Credit…via Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Various publications called out the affront, like The Forward, which ran a piece headlined “Jews built Hollywood. So why is their history erased from the Academy’s new museum?”

The museum said then that it had always intended to open a temporary exhibit devoted to the subject, but in response to the backlash it decided to make a permanent gallery, and it consulted rabbis and Jewish scholars on what should be included.

“We learned,” Bill Kramer, the chief executive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who was then the museum’s director, said in an interview. “We took a lot of the information from the conversations that we’ve had and grew from that.“

The show will be organized in three distinct parts: “Studio Origins,” which explores the founding of Hollywood’s original eight major film studios and their studio heads; “Los Angeles: From Film Frontier to Industry Town, 1902-1929,” which traces how the city evolved alongside the movie industry; and “From the Shtetl to the Studio: The Jewish Story of Hollywood,” a short-form documentary — narrated by Ben Mankiewicz, the TCM host and author — that looks at the Jewish immigrants and first-generation Jewish Americans who built the Hollywood studio system.

The exhibition was organized by Dara Jaffe, an associate curator, with help from Gary Dauphin, a former associate curator of digital presentations, and Josue L. Lopez, a research assistant. Neal Gabler, the author and film critic who wrote “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” served as an adviser.

“They were the ones who established this system,” Jaffe said of the pioneering Jewish filmmakers. “They were drawn to this industry because they were restricted from so many others.”

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