- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

Early detractors of Mel Gibson’s hit film, “The Passion of the Christ,” are backing away from their critical remarks after the movie grossed a record-setting $26.6 million on its opening day.

“The Passion,” which opened Wednesday on 4,643 screens at 3,006 theaters, set a record for the biggest opening day for a movie released outside the summer (May-August) and winter holiday months (November-December).

It came in third among all movies that have premiered on a Wednesday, bypassed only by “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” ($34.5 million) and “Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace” ($28.5 million), according to the movie tracking service Box Office Mojo.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) retracted critical remarks made about the film last April by its ecumenical and interreligious committee, which suggested that the film might be anti-Semitic.

In remarks released Wednesday on Catholic News Service, three staff members of the USCCB’s Office for Film and Broadcasting said the film might be overly violent but not anti-Semitic.

“Concerning the issue of anti-Semitism, the Jewish people are at no time blamed collectively for Jesus’ death,” said a review by Gerri Pare, David DiCerto and Anne Navarro. “Rather, Christ freely embraces his destiny.”

The reviewers went on to call the movie “an artistic achievement in terms of its textured cinematography, haunting atmospherics, lyrical editing, detailed production and soulful score.”

Hollywood film company Dreamworks also backed away from remarks published in yesterday’s New York Times suggesting that Hollywood producers will blacklist Mr. Gibson.

Quoting unnamed studio executives, the article said some of Hollywood’s biggest producers were angry over Mr. Gibson’s refusal to repudiate remarks by his father, Hutton Gibson, a Holocaust denier.

In a Feb. 16 ABC interview with Diane Sawyer, Mr. Gibson agreed that millions of Jews died in the Holocaust, but refused to condemn his father.

“He’s my father,” Mr. Gibson said. “Gotta leave it alone, Diane. Gotta leave it alone.”

A spokeswoman for Dreamworks founders Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen released this statement:

“Neither one of us has seen the movie yet, and as such, we have not yet formed an opinion, but we respect Mel Gibson’s rights as an artist to express his views,” it said. “After all, this is America.”

Mark Joseph, an entertainment executive in Los Angeles and author of the upcoming book “The Passion of Mel Gibson: The Story Behind the Most Controversial Film in Hollywood History,” said the film industry is in shock.

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