What Happened to Hollywood’s Mel Gibson Boycott?

How did the most reviled actor in Hollywood end up as the probable director of Lethal Weapon 5?

Mel Gibson found himself back in the news this week, as the Oscar-winning filmmaker is in talks to direct Lethal Weapon 5, which is being developed exclusively for HBO Max.

While it may be tempting to now call Gibson’s comeback complete, the truth is that he never really went away following his DUI arrest 15 years ago — the one that made international headlines after Gibson hurled anti-Semitic, racist and misogynistic comments at law enforcement officers. That’s what happens in a teflon town where true movie stars have become few and far between, and there’s always a new celebrity scandal to distract from the last one.

At the time, way back in July 2006, WME chief Ari Emanuel wrote an op-ed for The Huffington Post urging Hollywood to turn its back on Gibson. “People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line,” wrote Emanuel.

Though Gibson’s reputation within the industry certainly took a hit, a boycott never quite materialized. Emanuel wielded — and continues to wield — a considerable amount of power in this town, but even he couldn’t convince people to stop watching Gibson’s work. The director’s masterful Mayan epic Apocalypto was released just five months later, and within a few years, he was back starring in studio movies like WB’s 2010 crime drama Edge of Darkness. Later that year, however, Gibson was forced to bow out of the studio’s sequel to The Hangover after the cast and crew objected to his casting as a tattoo artist. It seems that people could stand up to Mel Gibson after all, but only if they were working on a sequel to a monster comedy hit.

Gibson’s dear friend, Jodie Foster, then stuck her neck out for her embattled pal, casting him as the lead in her bizarre 2011 indie The Beaver, which saw him operating a hand-puppet. From there, Gibson took some jobs to stay busy, signing on to pulpy movies like Get the Gringo and Blood Father, as well as action-packed studio sequels like The Expendables 3 and Machete Kills.

More recently, Gibson has found himself starring in action movies of the B-list variety, such as Force of Nature with Emile HirschBoss Level with Frank Grillo, and Dangerous with Scott Eastwood. In a wild bit of casting, Gibson even played Santa Claus in Fatman, which was actually pretty decent. Gibson has since wrapped six middling indie movies — Last Looks with Charlie HunnamAgent Game with Jason IsaacsBandit with Josh DuhamelPanama with Cole HauserHot Seat, a thriller that co-stars Sam Asghari, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know; and finally. There’s also On the Line, which sounds interesting enough, and Stu, which sees Gibson retest with his Daddy’s Home 2 co-star Mark Wahlberg.

Yes, the same Mark Wahlberg who is represented by — wait for it — Ari Emanuel! Do you think Ari sat his star client down and begged him not to cast Gibson as his character’s father (twice)? Or do you think both of them had dollar signs in their eyes, believing that Gibson’s star power outweighed any potentially negative PR that would stem from his hiring?

Let’s just be honest and admit that money still talks in Hollywood, where the almighty dollar remains king. That explains why Gibson was able to direct the successful war movie Hacksaw Ridge, and how he was able to earn an Oscar nomination for his troubles. The controversial director continues to develop a sequel to his biggest hit, The Passion of the Christ, and he’s set to star in the John Wick spinoff series The Continental on Starz, the cable network backed by Lionsgate, which has been Gibson’s primary employer (Blood FatherForce of NatureThe Expendables 3Dragged Across ConcreteHacksaw Ridge) over the past decade. Does this sound like the resume of a man who has suffered the consequences of cancel culture? Or did Gibson simply escape its wrath by virtue of the timing of his tirade?

Gibson’s defenders argue that the regrettable incident was a result of his alcoholism and that the actor harbors no hate in his heart. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it’s not. It’s hard to really know one way or the other. Personally, I have conflicting feelings about Gibson. As a Jew, I certainly don’t condone what he has said in the past, and I pity him if he still holds those troubling beliefs, but as someone who loves movies and the actor’s gruff onscreen persona, I have no problem watching his work. I respect anyone who wishes to boycott Gibson’s films, but I’m a firm believer in separating the art from the artist, whether that’s Gibson or Kevin Spacey, and to this day, I harbor no guilt while watching their films, nor will I apologize for doing so. After all, no one is forcing you to watch these men if you feel like doing so makes you complicit in their bad behavior.

Now, having said that, I have a hard time believing that Lethal Weapon 5 will ever get made with Mel Gibson at the helm, even for HBO Max, and especially with David Zaslav taking over soon. I’m fully aware that the WarnerMedia-Discovery merger has yet to be approved by government regulators, so Zaslav has yet to take over the super-sized company, but according to Wikipedia, he was born into a Polish and Ukrainian Jewish family, and in 2018, he received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award. And now he’s working with Mel Gibson? Hmmm…

It would be one thing if Gibson was just starring in Lethal Weapon 5, because when you’re an actor, you’re not in charge of anybody but yourself. But the idea of Gibson overseeing a diverse crew of hundreds of people is tough for me to wrap my head around at this point. After all, for the last several years, Warner Bros. has been working with Gibson to develop a remake of The Wild Bunch, though the studio never moved forward despite garnering interest from top stars. The project now seems to have stalled out, with Warners brass shifting their focus to Lethal Weapon 5.

The news that Gibson would direct the sequel emerged out of an event held in London, where Gibson told a rapt audience that Richard Donner, who directed the first four films in the franchise, “was developing the screenplay and he got pretty far along with it. And he said to me one day, ‘Listen, Kid, if I kick the bucket, you will do it.’ And I said, ‘Shut up.’

Sadly, Donner died this past July at the age of 91.

“He did indeed pass away. But he did ask me to do it, and, at the time, I didn’t say anything,” explained Gibson. “He said it to his wife and to the studio and the producer. So, I will be directing the fifth one.”

Donner’s wife, Lauren Shuler Donner, reportedly blessed Gibson’s hiring, if she didn’t instigate it herself, and now she’ll produce the sequel with Gibson and Dan LinRichard Wenk (The Equalizer) penned the most recent draft of the script, though there’s no word whether Rene RussoJoe Pesci or Chris Rock will reprise their roles from Lethal Weapon 4.

Leaving aside the fact that HBO Max looks more than a little desperate resurrecting this moribund franchise, which has been on ice since 1998, I’m not sure why the streamer isn’t just rebooting this IP with a young cast. I mean, Danny Glover is 75 years old at this point. He’s literally too old for this shit! Sure, Gibson has action chops behind the camera, and his intense charisma — so compelling early in his career — still goes a long way, but part of me wonders if, with Donner out of the picture, Gibson would only agree to reprise his role as Martin Riggs if he was handed the reins. I’m just not sure why else he took this gig. Was it out of some misguided sense of obligation to fulfill a dying man’s last creative wish? Lethal Weapon 5 isn’t even the kind of movie Gibson tends to make, so is he doing it to get back into Hollywood’s good graces and see if his brand of stardom translates to the streaming era, or is he doing it to ensure that this franchise goes out with some dignity?

Either way, Emanuel wrote back in 2006 that “There are times in history when standing up against bigotry and racism is more important than money.” I guess now just isn’t one of those times for HBO Max.

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