DETROIT - The Movie Drive is making the rounds on television screens lately. It's the darling of the on demand satellite movie channels this month. Actor Ryan Gosling stars as "Driver" the main character.
It seems like the run of the mill, R-rated, shoot ‘em up with fast cars. In fact, the trailers sent to theatres worldwide made that a point.
The expectation was a movie similar to the popular "Fast and Furious" series. But moviegoers saw something quite different. A couple of people whom I know who have seen the film weren't particularly happy about what they complained of as a bit of a bait and switch. Drive, these people have told me, is a brooding, almost deathly quiet film with a few car chases sprinkled in, nothing like what they were expecting. Now this would not be the first time a movie trailer didn't quite jibe with the film. It's an ad after all and audiences will give considerable leeway.
But Drive is something completely different to a Michigan woman named Sarah Deming and her attorney Martin Leaf. They say yes the trailer was a bait and switch, but they believe it is something infinitely more sinister. They say the trailer sells you on car chases when the movie is peddling anti Semitic hate! So much so they have filed suit in Oakland County Michigan against the movie. And while we originally were intrigued last fall that anyone would sue a movie for being terrible, we had no idea the scale on which this lawsuit is willing to go to combat what Leaf calls a blatantly offensive film, artfully and craftily displaying just about every Nazi-era Jewish stereotype as entertainment. The original filing was against the FilmDistrict Distribution company, Drive's makers and distributers. But new filings today claim the Scandinavian Director Nicolas Winding Refn and screen writer Hossein Amini along with a "John Doe" of unknown origin conspired to produce what the suit alleges is the most anti Semitic movie in cinematic history. The suit further claims the film commits ethnic intimidation.
In an interview with Local Four today attorney Leaf says Drive makes certain the viewer understands that the Jewish characters have absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Worse yet, it is unprecedented [he says] in its connection between criminality caused by the Jewish religion. Leaf says the film uses subtle imagery like angle iron on a garage door in the shape of a Star of David as the backdrop for a murder where a Jew, masquerading as an Italian, uses a straight razor to sever the brachial artery of a sympathetic character's arm and is left to bleed to death. After the killing the Jew who committed the crime carefully cleans off the blade and then stores it in a special case. Leaf says this is a blatant and sick parody of kosher slaughter. Leaf said of Drive "it seeks to dehumanize and vilify Jews… Its hate filled, very well made, very clever, but nevertheless its anti Semitic propaganda… everything works together towards that purpose." He went on to say Drive portrays "The Jewish religion as sadistic, unforgiving, cruel which of course it is not. And I think that this is new ground in cinema, American mainstream cinema. I don't think that has been done before."
The first time I reported this story it reverberated around the world. I even did a morning radio interview on an Australian station asking about how this suit could have ever come to the fore. It is laughed at and scoffed at by those who say film makers should have free and total reign, especially considering our First Amendment protection. At first I thought it frivolous too. Who sues because the movie stunk I asked?
Well, it turns out I know little about the intricacies of Nazi anti Semitic hate propaganda and kosher slaughter. I could not see that concern here. Leaf does a good job of explaining his dark concerns. As a Jew, he understood immediately what he was looking at and does not want anyone to walk away without understanding it, too.
He believes, and says as much in his pleadings, any moviemaker willing to put on screen images of Muhammad with a pig would generate riots in the streets. He says what this film portrays is equally as offensive to Jews and everyone should know about it. No he doesn't want riots in the streets. It is his intent to have a warning label slapped on the film; its DVD's and even its airing on television to tell audiences it is not "Fast and Furious" but Jew hating sentiment on steroids.
This is a tall, uphill legal battle he is waging. He knows that. Chances are he will lose this fight considering the movie industry will no doubt bring the wrath of big moneyed Hollywood lawyers down on a Sylvan Lake, Michigan plaintiff and her attorney. But for their purposes, at least the word is out, the point is made and it will play out in open court. Drive is more than just a movie now, it is a lightning rod.
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