My “Freindly Fire” column, never mistaken for being fluffy or politically correct, routinely hammers hypocrites, frauds, and otherwise unsavory characters in politics, business, entertainment, and yes — the media. So when a reader recently inquired whom I respect, I gave it some thought.
Since it was Easter week, I didn’t have to think too much, for a person came to mind whose courage is legendary and who has literally changed the world like no other.
While profiled extensively, it is not his brave heart that is the usual subject matter, but vitriolic attacks waged by those jealous of his professional success and threatened by his personal and religious convictions.
There is a saying that one’s worth can be judged by his enemies. And given that Mel Gibson rankled the Hollywood elite like no other in history, beating them at their own game, he is definitely a man of high worth.
Gibson’s award-winning career has been a storied one. He has reprised many roles defending persecuted people incapable of fighting for themselves, from Braveheart to The Patriot, where freedom was a central theme. Freedom from tyranny and oppression, freedom from crime, freedom from fear.
But most significantly, the message of Gibson’s premier work was freedom from eternal damnation.
The Passion of the Christ was one of the most successful movies in history, and the highest grossing non-English language film of all time. Yet if Hollywood had its way, it would have never been produced.
Despite the over two billion Christians in the world, which would seem like a pretty good target market for a movie that follows Jesus during his agonizing last hours, nobody in Tinsel Town wanted to touch Gibson’s idea. Not a whole lot in Hollywood makes sense, but that one takes the cake.
Walk away from a movie that any third-grader could have told you would make hundreds of millions right out of the gate? If Hollywood is about one thing, it’s money. While The Passion’s religious message is anathema to much of that town’s culture, one would have thought The Almighty Dollar would have been all the religion Hollywood would have needed.
But rather that quit, Gibson spent his own money —almost $50 million — to produce and market the film, and ended up distributing it himself along with a small company, since no major distributor wanted anything to do with film.
Can we say cowardice and religious bigotry?
But that was just the beginning. Gibson faced an onslaught of criticism from a small number of loud-mouthed whiners who wanted to see their names in the papers. So, incredibly, they attacked Mel for not rewriting history to their liking, cavalierly throwing out charges of bigotry.
Fact is, The Passion is an historically accurate masterpiece with absolutely no elements of bigotry, but once those types of charges are leveled, it’s difficult to forge ahead.
Gibson could have chosen the easy way out: he could have canceled the whole project, choosing to not place his money at risk. He could have produced a politically correct movie by ignoring historical fact, thereby averting the disparaging attacks on him and his family (as his father, a dedicated family man who led an exemplary life, was also ruthlessly attacked without basis). He could have downplayed his conservative Catholicism and avoided the numerous questions about his personal beliefs.
He could have settled. But he didn’t.
He didn’t make the film for money, since he already had plenty of it. Nor did he do it for fame, since he was routinely listed as one of the world’s biggest superstars.
But rather than sell his soul like most in Hollywood, Gibson persevered. And because of that, the greatest story of all time was re-told in the most realistic way anyone had ever seen. The sacrifice, the passion, the very idea of faith itself — all brought home to billions the world over.
And certainly not just Christians benefitted from The Passion, since people of all religious faiths flocked to take heart in the film’s universal messages of redemption, forgiveness and hope. (So powerful was the film that it was censored in some countries and not distributed in others. Makes one wonder what made those leaders fear so much).
The same attention-seekers who attacked Mel Gibson (and some continue to do so) will no doubt level charges that this column is defending a man who, years after the film, allegedly made anti-semetic and bigoted remarks. And they would be right. I am defending Mel Gibson the man, not his remarks.
Gibson spent a career defending principles that are incessantly under attack, and his most brilliant work rekindled the faith of billions in a way no church, no preacher, not even the Bible itself could duplicate. Our world becomes more visual by the day, so The Passion, with portrayals that make the true passion story come to life more realistically than any other medium, takes its place in history as the movie that changed the world more than any other.
Has Gibson made mistakes? Sure, and has admitted so and taken responsibility for them. “I’ve never treated anyone badly or in a discriminatory way based on their gender, race, religion or sexuality — period,” he recently told Deadline Hollywood. Referring to comments made to an ex-girlfriend that were deliberately blown out of proportion by those wishing to bring down Gibson, he said they didn’t “represent what I truly believe or how I’ve treated people my entire life.”
Should he be believed? Given his history of character and conviction — rare in the world and virtually nonexistent in Hollywood — and the fact that many other celebrities are “forgiven” by the public for things a whole lot worse after making disingenuous apologies, absolutely.
The ultimate message of The Passion is redemption, and because of Mel Gibson’s courage, that message continues to resonate around the world.
Gibson himself deserves nothing less.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com
Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”
Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com