Thursday, December 02, 2004

Evelina Meghnagi

In my report on the Fulco and Fitzgerald session at the SBL, I included a brief comment on the following:
Also on the question of anti-Judaism, Fulco mentioned an assistant he had -- don't remember the name -- on the language coaching on set. She was Jewish and apparently frequently sat down with Mel Gibson to discuss the question of the representation of Jews and Judaism in the film. She made suggestions for improvements to the film throughout, including something to do with the depiction of the Last Supper.
Evy Nelson helpfully emails with the name of this person, Evelina Meghnagi, and there is an interesting article here that fills in a little more background:

Jewish actor traded role in ‘Fiddler’ to play a high priest in ‘The Passion’
By Ruth E. Gruber

The actor in the headline here is Olek Mincer who plays Nicodemus in the film, but the article discusses not only his views and Maia Morgenstern's (Mary), but also Evelina Meghnagi's:
Meghnagi, who was born in Libya, recently described to the Rome Jewish monthly Shalom her growing uneasiness with the production as it progressed. She said she felt so strongly about it that she refused to allow the use of some of her music in the soundtrack.

“As I instructed the actors how to speak in Aramaic,” she said, “I began to understand from the screenplay that not only would this be a blood-soaked and violent film, but also that I found myself facing a story in which the director, Mel Gibson, restored the responsibility for the crucifixion of Christ to us Jews.”

Morgenstern, on the other hand, has told interviewers that she does not think the film is anti-Semitic.

The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Morgenstern told The Associated Press that any political message the film offers is “about the responsibility and impact political and military leaders can have in manipulating the masses and interfering in people’s conscience, particularly at a moment of crisis as it was then.”

Mincer, also the child of survivors, agrees with Morgenstern.

Mincer said he doesn’t believe Gibson is anti-Semitic, and he hopes that the controversy around the film could ultimately have a positive effect."
I found the article an interesting comment on Fulco's postive spin on Meghnagi's role and then all the more interesting for the comments of Mincer. I had not been aware of him before. The article's conclusion:
Mincer said that he had experienced some qualms while performing in “The Passion of the Christ,” but in the end — like Morgenstern — he concluded that “this was a film, a work of art; we are actors and we serve art; this is our profession.”

Still, he admitted, he didn’t know how he would have behaved if the character he played would have had to have acted violently against Jesus.

As it was, he said, the violent aspects of the movie in a way had strengthened his own sense of Jewish identity. they also provided him with new insights into Christianity.

“The violence carried out on Jesus by the Roman soldiers made me think of the millions who were killed during the Shoah, during the Russian pogroms, in medieval bonfires,” he said. “Maybe because I myself am Jewish, it made me think of Jesus as a brother who suffers.”

It was important to remember, he said, that “Jesus, his mother, father and all the apostles were Jews; the first Christian martyrs were Jews; the Romans did not distinguish between Christians and Jews who were not Christian.”

He said that during the production of “The Passion,” he and the other Jewish cast and crew members became close. Meghnagi in particular, he said, also tried to influence the production by pointing out certain errors in how Judaism or Jewish practice was portrayed.

“I have to tell you that during the long periods of waiting off the set, I would sing songs in Yiddish with one of the American actors,” Mincer said.

“I felt a little clandestine in doing so, but at the same time not alone; it gave me a sense of belonging,” he said. “And watching the bravura and professionalism of Maia Morgenstern filled me with pride for Yiddishkeit.”
The mention of Meghnagi there is presumably what Fulco was talking about in the session. I've looked around on the net to see if there is any further information available about her views on the film. The only thing I've discovered is that she also appears in the film -- as a woman in Herod's Court (see IMDb entry on).

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