UPDATED EXCLUSIVE: While NFL players debate the severity of punishment that might come the way of Philadelphia Eagles WR DeSean Jackson for tweeting anti-Semitic comments and evoking Adolf Hitler in a widely derided social media rant, team owner Jeffrey Lurie coincidentally launched his new production company Play/Action Pictures with what might be an ideal teaching tool for the player.
Lurie has teamed with Cinetic Media for their inaugural project The Meaning Of Hitler. Directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker (Gunner Palace, Karl Marx City), the film uses the title of the bestselling book from 1978 to put a provocative spotlight on our culture’s fascination with Hitler and Nazism as it sets itself against the backdrop of the current rise of white supremacy, the normalization of antisemitism and the weaponization of history itself.
Filmed in nine countries over three years, the film traces Hitler’s movements, his rise to power and the scenes of his crimes. The docu features interviews and insight from historians and writers including Deborah Lipstadt, Martin Amis, Sir Richard Evans, Saul Friedlander, Yehuda Bauer, and famed Nazi hunters Beate and Serge Klarsfeld. As fears of authoritarianism and fascism continue to grow, the film explores the myths and misconceptions of our understanding of the past and the difficult process of coming to terms with it at a time in our history when it seems more urgent than ever.
Cinetic will handle North American sales for the film.
The documentary seems fortuitously timed, in a backdrop of civic unrest, social change and Lurie’s own player’s inexplicable commentary. Jackson has apologized, sort of — he claimed his message was taken the wrong way and that he doesn’t hate anyone — for posting anti-semitic quotes attributed to Hitler on social media over the 4th of July holiday. Numerous players — Black, white, Jewish, former Eagles — have taken Jackson to task for the statements and for positive remarks about Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, as well as pictures on his story feed of a quote he attributed to Hitler, in which “white Jews” are accused of trying to “blackmail America…(They) will extort America,” the quote read, “(and) their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were.” For his polarizing rhetoric, Farrakhan has been identified as anti-Semitic by the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center, with the latter noting that Farrakhan served as the top minister for the Nation of Islam, a “deeply racist” system “consistently rejected by mainstream Muslims.”
Some players backed up Jackson on his statements, and called for no punishment to be meted out, even as the Eagles issued a statement that conveyed that regardless of his intentions, Jackson’s statements were “offensive, harmful, and absolutely appalling. They have no place in our society, and are not condoned or supported in any way by the organization. We are disappointed and we reiterated to DeSean the importance of not only apologizing, but also using his platform to take action to promote unity, equality, and respect. We are continuing to evaluate the circumstances and will take appropriate action. We take these matters very seriously and are committed to continuing to have productive and meaningful conversations with DeSean, as well as all of our players and staff, in order to educate, learn, and grow.”
Some Jackson defenders cited the Eagles’ lenient treatment of wide receiver Riley Cooper in 2013 after he was filmed shouting the n-word at a country music concert. Cooper drew a fine that many felt was insufficient, especially after the team signed him to a five year extension the following year, before releasing him in 2016.
Jackson’s comments are the latest in a series of flashpoint media moments as NFL players opine on hot button issues. That includes New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who derided players taking a knee, in the wake of the George Floyd murder. He has been walking back and apologizing for those tone deaf comments ever since. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell apologized for not backing players of color who chose to kneel during the National Anthem in support of 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, who some feel was blackballed out of the league after leaving his team, with President Trump in the backdrop assailing those players — “Get those bastards out of the country right now” — were his exact words to NFL owners, and ironically those sentiments led the Super Bowl Champion Eagles to turn down an invite to come to the White House to be honored.
At a moment when “cancel culture” sentiment runs high, one fellow wide receiver offered a particularly enlightened observation. New England Patriots star Julian Edelman, who is Jewish, made this offer to Jackson: “How about we go to DC and I take you to the Holocaust museum and then you take me to the museum of African American History and Culture. Afterwards, we’ll grab some burgers and we have those uncomfortable conversations. This world needs a littomore love compassion and empathy.”
In a statement to Deadline, Lurie not surprisingly did not mention Jackson’s comments, but said the picture is an ideal way to launch a film shingle.
“We couldn’t be prouder that The Meaning of Hitler is the first completed film made by our new documentary production company, Play/Action Pictures,” said Lurie, who served as executive producer of the Oscar-winning docu Inside Job. “I envisioned Play/Action to be a leading creative force for films that engage with the most crucial and challenging issues of our time. The rise of white supremacy and neo-fascism in the United States and the world over are among the most important and serious threats we face today.”
The Meaning of Hitler is executive produced by Lurie and Marie Therese Guirgis, Head of Documentary at Play/Action Pictures. The docu is produced by Dana O’Keefe (Barry, 11/8/16) and Mike Lerner (The Great Hack, Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer). In addition to The Meaning of Hitler is one of four docus Play/Action has on its slate, including Black Woodstock directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.