LOS ANGELES—Oscar-winning director Mel Gibson was plunged into a fresh anti-Semitism row Thursday after being accused of shelving a film about a famous Jewish revolt because he “hates Jews.”
But the “Braveheart” star blasted the claims as “fabrications” from a writer whose work wasn’t up to scratch.
The allegations from Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas came after studio Warner Bros announced it was putting on hold “The Maccabees,” which Gibson had been penciled in to direct, because the film “lacked a sense of triumph.”
But Eszterhas, best known for writing the thrillers “Jagged Edge,” and “Basic Instinct,” let rip at Gibson in a nine-page letter which alleged the “Braveheart” star was pulling out because of his anti-Semitic views.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason you won’t make ‘The Maccabees’ is the ugliest possible one. You hate Jews,” Eszterhas wrote in the letter, which was reproduced on the movie and entertainment website The Wrap.
Gibson, 56, whose reputation has plunged since he was caught on tape in July 2006 making an anti-Semitic rant at a US sheriff’s deputy who had arrested him for drunken driving, denies the latest allegations.
Eszterhas, however, accused Gibson, star of blockbusters “Mad Max” and “Lethal Weapon,” of taking on the project under false pretenses.
“I believe you announced the project with great fanfare — ‘a Jewish Braveheart’ — in an attempt to deflect continuing charges of anti-Semitism which have dogged you, charges which have crippled your career,” he wrote.
During his high-profile arrest six years ago, Gibson, a Catholic, said Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world, but later apologized for making “despicable” comments which he blamed on alcoholism.
“The Maccabees” was intended as a drama based on Judah Maccabee, widely revered as one of the greatest warriors in Jewish history alongside Joshua, Gideon and David.
Eszterhas, 67, who said Warner Bros told him in March that the studio was not going ahead with the project, recalled a social occasion where he claimed Gibson had slandered Jews and behaved badly.
“You continually called Jews ‘Hebes’ and ‘oven-dodgers’ and even ‘Jewboys,'” said Eszterhas in the letter, referring to slang term for Hebrew.
But in a statement issued after the Eszterhas letter went viral, Gibson denounced the allegations as “utter fabrications,” and said “The Maccabees,” had been sidelined because the script was not good enough.
“I absolutely want to make this movie; it’s just that neither Warner Bros nor I want to make this movie based on your script,” Gibson wrote in a letter, issued by his publicist.
“Honestly, Joe, not only was the script delivered later than you promised, both Warner Bros and I were extraordinarily disappointed with the draft.
“In 25 years of script development I have never seen a more substandard first draft or a more significant waste of time. The decision not to proceed with you was based on the quality of your script, not on any other factor.”
Eszterhas added however that during the meeting at Gibson’s California home the actor, who won the best picture and director Oscars for “Braveheart” in 1996, had also defamed assassinated British singer John Lennon.
“About John Lennon: ‘I’m glad he’s dead. He deserved to be shot,'” Eszterhas alleged Gibson had said.
TMZ meanwhile said Gibson believes the film will still go ahead, despite the row, citing a source as saying: “The project is going forward without Eszterhas,” adding he “still has a relationship with Warner Bros.”
But another source intimately connected to the project told the usually well-informed celebrity news website: “There are no plans on making it into a movie.”