The year is 2006. Actor and director Mel Gibson, having been caught by TMZ making virulently anti-Semitic and sexist comments after a DUI arrest, admits what he said was "despicable." He enters rehab amid angry calls from multiple corners that he never work in Hollywood again — calls that continued for years.
The year is now 2017, and Mel Gibson is an Oscar nominee for directing Hacksaw Ridge.
You'd be forgiven if you feel a little whiplash. Sure, a full decade passed between those two incidents. There was, as the Hollywood Reporter called it, a "thawing" that led to actors and publicists wanting to work with him again. But the way Gibson's comeback has been portrayed in the press, you'd think he had a silly run-in with the police like Reese Witherspoon — or that his run-in was the last such controversy.
Far from it: What he said was anything but silly, and he's been caught saying terrible things since.
Let's recall exactly what Gibson said during his 2006 arrest:
"Fucking Jews," Gibson said, asking his arresting officer if he was Jewish. "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." He also told his arresting officer that he "own[s] Malibu" and was going to screw him over.
To another officer — a woman — he asked, "What do you think you're looking at, sugar tits?"
This is not the kind of action you joke about on The Tonight Show to take the heat off. This is language loaded with bias for which Gibson, although he apologized, didn't take a ton of responsibility. In a Good Morning America interview later that year, when asked what he might have said about black people if the arresting officer had been black instead of Jewish, Gibson said:
I'd have to get loaded and tell you. And then be in those conditions again. Because it's unpredictable what's gonna come flying out.
Gibson was praised in 2007 for his work in rehab, and while alcohol certainly contributed to what happened, it wasn't the sole factor involved. Gibson did not become anti-Semitic after a few drinks. This idea he put forth — that he didn't know if he'd become racist after imbibing — indicates a lack of understanding of the real problem.
In fact, if you look back in Gibson's history, you'll find a very similar incident in 1991, when Gibson gave an interview to the Spanish newspaper El Pais (as reported during the 2006 news cycle by the Advocate), the director said numerous profane, antigay things:
They take it up the ass ... this is only for taking a shit. ... With this look, who's going to think I'm gay? I don't lend myself to that type of confusion. Do I look like a homosexual? Do I talk like them? Do I move like them?
In 1999, Gibson — who has a gay brother — admitted he "shouldn't have said" what he did, but attributed it to alcohol. "I was tickling a bit of vodka during that interview, and the quote came back to bite me on the ass," he said in a familiar-sounding quote.
Years later, when asked about the DUI on Variety's Playback podcast in 2016, Gibson described being reminded of it as "annoying," and instead pointed to the "unscrupulous police officer" who "illegally" recorded the arrest. He insists that he's not actually discriminated against anyone.
"I don't understand why after 10 years it's any kind of issue," he said on the podcast. "Surely if I was really what they say I was, some kind of hater, there'd be evidence of actions somewhere. There never has been."
There are patterns here: Gibson apologized for saying what he did during the DUI, but still blames the officer for recording him. He admitted he was wrong in 1991, but remained bitter that his own words were used against him. In 2016, Glenn Beck recalled a conversation where Gibson made himself out to be a pariah. As always, the alcohol is to blame; now that he's sober, everything's fine. It's like watching a child who's mad he got caught doing something wrong.
Amid all this talk of "thawing," you'd expect we just hadn't heard from Gibson in 10 years. Indeed, he didn't direct anything between 2006's Apocalypto and 2016's Hacksaw Ridge, but he did act in six different films.
Not only was he present on-screen, Gibson also found himself back in hot water in 2010, when a recording of a racist, sexist rant left on his ex-partner Oksana Grigorieva's voicemail leaked. (The audio can be heard at Radar Online.) The most shocking part of the tirade:
You go out in public and it's a fucking embarrassment to me. You look like a fucking bitch in heat. And if you get raped by a pack of niggers it will be your fault. All right? Because you provoked it. You are provocatively dressed all the time with your fake boobs that you feel you have to show off. I don't like it. I don't want that woman. I don't want you. I don't trust you. I don't love you.
Between Casey Affleck and Nate Parker, there's a lot of talk about separating art from artist this year, but Gibson's comeback seems to have been born out of a separation from the facts of history. A man who was repeatedly caught on record making racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic comments, passes blame for his own actions compulsively and regularly credits alcohol as the sole motivation for his hateful language was allowed to return to glory. He and his publicists spun a comeback narrative that contradicts the facts.
There's a tendency in arts media right now to tie what's happening with the Oscars to the election of Donald Trump. This is inevitable; a seismic event like Trump's ascendancy is bound to inspire comparisons, be they accurate or a reach. But none seems more fitting than BuzzFeed's piece from Tuesday, an article titled "Mel Gibson Is The Definitive Oscar Nominee For Trump's America." In the article's conclusion, author Kate Aurthur wrote:
This year's Academy Awards feature a historic number of black actors as nominees, and three black movies — Fences, Moonlight, and Hidden Figures — were nominated for Best Picture. And yet, to exemplify this divided country, there's also the embrace of Gibson, who shows that demeanor matters. Apparently, the more you stick to your guns, the more successful you can be. You can even be president.
A man who has said racist, sexist, anti-Semitic things rising to power: There's really no more quintessentially contemporary story, is there?