Mel Gibson Makes a Bid for Resurrection at Golden Globes

Shunned by Hollywood after making racist and anti-Semitic remarks and admitting to abusing women, the Australian actor takes a first step towards rehabilitation.

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Presenter Mel Gibson speaks at the 73rd Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California, January 10, 2016.
Presenter Mel Gibson speaks at the 73rd Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California, January 10, 2016.Credit: Reuters
Allison Kaplan Sommer
Allison Kaplan Sommer

The near-decade ostracism of Mel Gibson from Hollywood respectability ended Sunday night with the Golden Globe Awards ceremony as the 60-year-old actor and director hit the red carpet and the spotlight making an appearance at the glitzy ceremony.

Not everyone welcomed what appears to be the first step in a Gibson career resurrection effort following strong public reaction to blatantly racist and anti-Semitic remarks caught on tape on multiple occasions, among other alcohol-fueled exploits and stormy and violent relationships with women. The anti-Gibson backlash on Twitter has been significant and at least one Jewish organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has said it was “disappointed that the Golden Globe Awards committee, at a time of surging anti-Semitism, has chosen to rehabilitate a bigot.”

None of this appeared to affect Gibson - nor did the ribbing from host Ricky Gervais, as he took the stage to introduce the reboot of “Mad Max,” the film that launched his career. 

“A few years ago on this show I made a joke about Mel Gibson getting a bit drunk and saying a few unsavory things,” said Gervais in a mock-humble tone. “We’ve all done it. I wasn’t judging him, but now I find myself in the awkward position of having to introduce him again. I’m sure it’s embarrassing for both of us. I blame NBC for this terrible situation.” 

He smiled. “Mel blames well, you know who Mel blames.”

He continued, “Listen, I still feel a bit bad for it. Mel’s forgotten all about it, apparently. That’s what drinking does. No, really, I want to say something nice about Mel before he comes out. So, yeah, OK I’d rather have a drink with him in his hotel room tonight than with Bill Cosby!” 

Gibson, looking heavily tanned and extremely relaxed, taking the stage and handing Gervais to the drink the host had clearly strategically left on the podium, gave him him a dirty look and said, “I love seeing Ricky Gervais every few years because it reminds me to get a colonoscopy.” 

Gervais then got in a last shot, saying, “I have to ask you a question. What the f***k does 'sugartits' even mean?” (According to a police report, in a 2006 drunken tirade, Gibson asked an arresting deputy, "What do you think you're looking at, sugar tits?") On the Golden Globes stage, Gibson denied the now-legendary anecdote, responding as Gervais left the stage, “Ask the guy who say it. It wasn’t me!” He then dryly thanked Gervais “for your input.” 

Getting in the last word, at the very end of the three-hour broadcast, Gervais bid farewell by saying "From Mel Gibson and myself: Shalom!" 

Gervais had already started joking about Gibson back on January 5, when his appearance on the show was first announced, tweeting, “Mel Gibson is presenting an award at The Golden Globes. Thank you Jesus.”

The Hollywood establishment and movie fans alike have had to wrestle with a love-hate relationship with Gibson for more than nine years. On one hand, his multiple achievements an actor and director are impossible to ignore. On the other, his recurring incidents of racial slurs, crude and drunken behavior and record of domestic violence have cast a giant shadow over those accomplishments. 

As a young man, the attractive Australian actor shot to stardom in the early 80’s with the films “Mad Max,” “Gallipoli” and “The Year of Living Dangerously,” followed up by a string of blockbusters, most prominently the buddy-cop classic “Lethal Weapon” series. His Hollywood cache increased when he moved into directing, peaking in 1995 when his film “Braveheart” grabbed the Oscars for “Best Picture” and “Best Director.”  

But bad behavior — all of it related to drinking — haunted him, dating back to the earliest days of his career. The real turning point took place in 2004, with the release of the controversial yet highly successful biblical epic “The Passion of the Christ,” whose account of the crucifixion of Jesus angered many Jewish organizations that believed it was an interpretation of the New Testament which would fan the flames of anti-Semitism. The project underlines what was already known about him: That Gibson is a “traditionalist Catholic” who refuses to acknowledge the Vatican II reforms, and that his father, Hutton Gibson, is a member of an extreme faction of that church and is on the record as a Holocaust denier.

The undeniable financial success of “The Passion” — it was one of the highest-grossing films in history — mitigated the controversy around it and around Gibson’s reputed beliefs. But a true downward spiral began in 2006 when he was caught hurling racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic remarks in infamous audio recordings made when he was pulled over for drunk driving by a Los Angeles policeman. The comments included a declaration that "the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."

Despite a Gibson apology, Abraham H. Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League said at the time, "we believe there should be consequences to bigots and bigotry,” and called for his colleagues to condemn and distance themselves from him.

The ADL stuck by its position in 2011 during Gibson’s attempt to make a movie about Judah Maccabee. The Anti-Defamation League slammed Warner Brothers for agreeing to partner with Gibson on the project, with Foxman saying it would be a “travesty to have the story of the Maccabees told by one who has no respect and sensitivity for other people’s religious views.” Later, Joe Ezterhaus, the writer of the film, charged that Gibson regularly called Jews "Hebes," "oven-dodgers" and "Jewboys."

His image was further tarnished after a bitter divorce from his wife of 31 years, Robyn, mother of their seven children, and an ensuing tabloid feeding frenzy over his relationship with girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, who he admitted to physically abusing during their brief time together. 

Ever since, Gibson has been persona non grata in Hollywood, though some loyal friends stood by him, such as actress and director Jodie Foster, who cast him as the star in her 2011 film “The Beaver,” which failed miserably at the box office. More recently, he was included among the list of action film alumni in 2014’s “The Expendables 3.” His most recent Hollywood appearance was an unannounced drop-by at the premiere of a reboot of “Mad Max” last May. 

But aside from these rare occasions, Gibson has been essentially invisible in the Hollywood scene he once dominated. Controversy has plagued his defenders and champions, such as Gary Oldman, who ended up apologizing for a Playboy interview in which he said that "Mel Gibson is in a town that's run by Jews and he said the wrong thing because he's actually bitten the hand that I guess has fed him.” When Gibson was honored with a lifetime achievement award at a Czech film festival, the local Jewish community protested.

Gibson is surely hoping that the awards signal the beginning of a new chapter in his long career, and that his appearance will somehow manage to lift his career out of Tinseltown’s gutter. If it succeeds, even just a bit, The ribbing by Gervais will have been a small price to pay.

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