Mel Gibson Says "The Passion" Is Meant to Inspire, Not Offend

Denies That Forthcoming Film on Jesus Is Anti-Semitic

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LOS ANGELES, JUNE 15, 2003 ( Film director and actor Mel Gibson says his movie «The Passion,» on the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life, is meant to «inspire, not offend.»

In a statement released to the trade publication Daily Variety, Gibson said: «To be certain, neither I nor my film is anti-Semitic.»

«‘The Passion’ is a movie meant to inspire not offend,» he added. «My intention in bringing it to the screen is to create a lasting work of art and engender serious thought among audiences of diverse faith backgrounds (or none), who have varying familiarity with this story.»

Gibson continued: «If the intense scrutiny during my 25 years in public life revealed I had ever persecuted or discriminated against anyone based on race or creed, I would be all too willing to make amends. But there is no such record.

«Nor do I hate anybody — certainly not the Jews. They are my friends and associates, both in my work and social life. Thankfully, treasured friendships forged over decades are not easily shaken by nasty innuendo. Anti-Semitism is not only contrary to my personal beliefs, it is also contrary to the core message of my movie.»

According to the statement released Thursday, the Anti-Defamation League and an ad hoc group of Jewish and Catholic scholars that advise the U.S. bishops’ conference had distributed an earlier draft of the script obtained from an insider source.

«We regret that this situation has occurred and offer our apologies,» said Mark Chopko, general counsel for the bishops’ conference, according to the statement.

«I have further advised the scholars group that this draft screenplay is not considered to be representative of the film and should not be the subject of further public comment,» Chopko added. «When the film is released, the USCCB will review it at that time.»

According to the statement released by Gibson’s Icon Productions and reviewed by the bishops’ conference, the «group of scholars, convened via e-mail and the Internet, had intended to read the confidential script in order to request revisions of the film that conform to their ideas of history and theology.»

Gibson dismissed claims that this film would be heretical in the eyes of the Vatican.

«For those concerned about the content of this film, know that it conforms to the narratives of Christ’s passion and death found in the four Gospels of the New Testament,» he said.

«This is a movie about faith, hope, love and forgiveness — something sorely needed in these turbulent times,» Gibson added.

The Gibson camp also cautioned against judging an unfinished film that no one outside the production team has even seen.

«While we respect everyone’s right to their opinion about the film, no one has a right to publicly critique a film that has not even been completed, let alone base their critique on an outdated version of the script which has been illegally obtained,» said the film’s producer Steve McEveety.

Gibson directed and co-wrote «The Passion,» which wrapped filming in Italy in April. Icon Productions is aiming for a spring 2004 release for the $25 million production. The film, which will feature dialogue only in Latin and Aramaic with no subtitles, has not yet found a distributor.

The project has been dear to Gibson’s heart. At a news conference last September, he said: «Obviously, no one wants to touch something filmed in two dead languages. Hopefully, I’ll be able to transcend language barriers with visual storytelling.»

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