During a 40-minute, question-and-answer session on Saturday night, Gibson said, “I’m not anti-Semitic. My Gospels are not anti-Semitic. I’ve shown it to many Jews and they’re like, it’s not anti-Semitic. It’s interesting that the people who say it’s anti-Semitic say that before they saw the film, and they said the same thing after they saw the film.”
Gibson’s widely broadcast appearance before 3,800 invited guests at the evangelical Azusa Pacific University some 20 miles east of Los Angeles was part of what The Los Angeles Times described as “a highly orchestrated marketing campaign.”
The event was billed as a “training rally” to pump up evangelical pastors and youth groups to promote the film through on-line chat rooms, large posters, and door hangers.
The Passion is rated “R” for its “brutal and relentless” depiction, in Gibson’s own words, of the last 12 hours of Jesus’s life and the Crucifixion.
The film, which Gibson financed through $25 million of his own money, opens February 25, Ash Wednesday, at some 2,000 theaters across the country.
Despite its graphic footage and its dialogue in Aramaic and Latin with English subtitles, the film may earn $25 million to $30m. in box office receipts in the first five days, the Times reported.
Intensive media coverage has boosted interest, much of which was spurred by charges of anti-Semitism by Jewish spokesmen, including Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Another outspoken critic has been Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“As someone who has dealt with the issue of anti-Semitism professionally since 1977, I know about what it is more than Mel Gibson,” Hier told the Times.
“Every Jew who appears in this film, except for the disciples of Christ, are portrayed cruelly and portrayed as a people with an almost sinister look in their eyes. Jews who see this film, I believe, will be overwhelmingly horrified.”
Gibson said during the Q&A session that the inspiration for the film came from his need for introspection.
“You go to a place where, you know, you have to reevaluate your insides and like, change, because you know, I’m a monster. I mean I can be,” he said. “It’s like you know, I’ve been offered every kind of excess that money and fame brings and it’s not good enough.”