Actor Mel Gibson Is Caught Making Anti-Semitic Remarks

Star film actor Mel Gibson was stopped for erratic driving and speeding and then arrested for drunk driving on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. During the traffic stop, he made anti-Semitic remarks to the sheriff’s deputy who detained him. Gibson’s arrest and vulgar rants were detailed by the media within hours of his arrest. The actor made several public apologies, but the scandal did not affect his career.

Summary of Event

Actor and director Mel Gibson’s profanity-filled, racially charged rant at Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy James Mee, who had stopped Gibson on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California, for driving erratically and speeding, made headlines around the world in a matter of hours. Although Gibson’s career seemed to hang in the balance for the next few days, he ultimately walked away from the incident relatively unscathed. His professional survival stemmed not only from his public expressions of regret but also, ironically, from his reputation as an already rough-edged and somewhat tarnished star long before Mee pulled him over in the predawn hours of July 28, 2006, and arrested him for drunk driving. [kw]Actor Mel Gibson Is Caught Making Anti-Semitic Remarks (July 28, 2006)
[kw]Gibson Is Caught Making Anti-Semitic Remarks, Actor Mel (July 28, 2006)
[kw]Anti-Semitic Remarks, Actor Mel Gibson Is Caught Making (July 28, 2006)
Gibson, Mel
Anti-Semitism[AntiSemitism];and Mel Gibson[Gibson]
Mee, James
Gibson, Mel
Anti-Semitism[AntiSemitism];and Mel Gibson[Gibson]
Mee, James
[g]United States;July 28, 2006: Actor Mel Gibson Is Caught Making Anti-Semitic Remarks[03640]
[c]Racism;July 28, 2006: Actor Mel Gibson Is Caught Making Anti-Semitic Remarks[03640]
[c]Law and the courts;July 28, 2006: Actor Mel Gibson Is Caught Making Anti-Semitic Remarks[03640]
[c]Social issues and reform;July 28, 2006: Actor Mel Gibson Is Caught Making Anti-Semitic Remarks[03640]
[c]Public morals;July 28, 2006: Actor Mel Gibson Is Caught Making Anti-Semitic Remarks[03640]
[c]Hollywood;July 28, 2006: Actor Mel Gibson Is Caught Making Anti-Semitic Remarks[03640]

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department booking photograph of Mel Gibson on the morning of his arrest.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Born in New York State to an American father and an Irish-Australian mother, Gibson moved with his family to Australia just as he was about to enter his teenage years, when his father decided to relocate to his wife’s homeland. Although he first drew worldwide attention among the so-called Australian New Wave filmmakers and actors of the 1970’s and early 1980’s, Gibson’s success in a science-fiction film series in which he played an antihero named Mad Max, struggling to survive in a postapocalyptic wasteland, made him a superstar in action films far removed from the art-film dramas favored by his early colleagues.

In addition to the Mad Max films, Gibson also starred with Danny Glover in the wildly popular Lethal Weapon series of seriocomic police movies. In 1990, Gibson surprised his fans with a switch to the most serious sort of drama imaginable—an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet directed by Franco Zeffirelli. The film was successful with both critics and viewers, encouraging Gibson to embark on a series of ambitious, serious-minded pictures, sometimes as actor, sometimes as director, and sometimes as both. Each of these films—which constituted an unofficial trilogy of historical epics—created controversy and drew attention to Gibson’s beliefs about and attitudes toward various minority groups.

The hugely popular Braveheart (1995), which Gibson both directed and starred in, was the story of Scottish national hero William Wallace, and it drew accusations of hatred of the English as well as homophobia because of its unsympathetic and stereotyped depiction of the homosexual English king Edward II Edward II. Gibson then starred in The Patriot (2000), a revolutionary war drama that again drew accusations of Anglo bashing because of its one-sided portrayal of the English as vicious and wholly despicable. His pet project, Passion of the Christ, The (film)
The Passion of the Christ (2004), a film detailing the final week in the life of Jesus, incited much debate in the media, as some felt that Gibson, in an age-old slander, was placing the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus on the Jews. The film was also criticized for depicting Jesus receiving far more brutalization at the hands of his captors than is supported by New Testament texts.

All these prior controversies, centered on Gibson’s perceived prejudices, haunted—but perhaps also helped—him in the wake of his drunken encounter with Mee. The deputy wrote in his arrest report that Gibson belligerently demanded to know if Mee was Jewish and subsequently went into a paranoid tirade in which he blamed Jews for every war that had ever occurred in the history of humankind. Also, Gibson allegedly insinuated that he would use his power and influence in California to carry out reprisals against Mee. Gibson refused to cooperate with deputies and, at the Malibu-Lost Hills sheriff’s station, he came close to relieving himself publically on the station floor. During all this brouhaha, according to Mee, Gibson made frequent use of “the F-word.” Later, rumors circulated that, according to some unnamed source other than Mee, Gibson also made a crude, sexist remark to a female deputy at the sheriff’s station. Despite all this drama, within five hours, Gibson was released on bail. Within twelve hours the story of his arrest and reprehensible behavior had hit the news services, and what seemed to be written copies of Deputy Mee’s original arrest report were posted on the celebrity-news Web site

For the next month, debates raged in the media. Was the sheriff’s department report posted on the Web authentic? If so, how was it obtained? Had someone at the sheriff’s station leaked the report? Had Gibson been given preferential treatment because he was a celebrity? Had Mee’s superiors tried to coerce him into downplaying or denying Gibson’s alleged bigoted statements? Is Gibson truly an anti-Semite? Many people in the entertainment industry and prominent Jewish Americans made public statements either attacking or defending Gibson. The actor also found himself being widely spoofed in editorial Cartoons cartoons, in comic routines, and on television.

Gibson’s initial response was to issue a public apology the next day, July 29. However, this statement of shame never specifically addressed the charge of anti-Semitism and seemed to blame the incident on drinking and his long-term problems with alcohol. When public opinion deemed this mea culpa unsatisfactory, Gibson offered another on August 1. In this second attempt at redress, he directly denied his alleged religious bigotry and denounced not only anti-Semitism specifically but all forms of hate and prejudice. He also offered to get together with Jewish people offended by his outburst and discuss the matter openly, a ploy he had used earlier when crude, homophobic remarks he made in an interview with a Spanish reporter outraged gays and lesbians in 1991. Gibson did not contest the charge of driving while intoxicated, and on August 18 he was given three years of probation, fined thirteen hundred dollars, and ordered to take part in various alcohol rehabilitation programs.


In spite of the attention it received and the heated debate it sparked, the inebriated blather that Gibson spewed at Deputy Mee in July of 2006 ultimately did little damage to the star’s career. He continued to make and release films and to be a powerful entertainment figure. In part, this outcome derived from the somewhat soiled and tattered reputation that Gibson brought with him to the scandal. He had already been accused of being intolerant. After media scrutiny dissipated, most people retreated to opinions that they had reached long ago about his attitudes and behavior, leaving his fans to decide to accept his excuses and apologies and his detractors to ask themselves if they could expect anything less from him.

No doubt the scandal would have seriously jeopardized the career of a celebrity with a tamer, more level-headed public persona, as the shock would have been far keener and the additional charge of hypocrisy would have been incredibly damaging. In fact, the only concrete outcome of the incident was that it inspired the state of California to pass a law in 2007 making it a crime for law enforcement or court officials to sell or solicit for sale any information, including photographs, about the arrest of a celebrity or other high-profile detainee. Gibson, Mel
Anti-Semitism[AntiSemitism];and Mel Gibson[Gibson]
Mee, James

Further Reading

  • Carr, Steven. Hollywood and Anti-Semitism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Although covering only the time period up to World War II, this book remains the definitive work on its subject and provides cogent background for the incident involving Mel Gibson.
  • Clarkson, Wensley. Mel Gibson: Living Dangerously. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1999. Predates the 2006 scandal but provides insight into Gibson’s troubled history with ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities.
  • Newton, Michael, and John L. French. Celebrities and Crime. New York: Chelsea House, 2008. Written especially for younger readers, this book examines the intersection of celebrity and crime. Discusses how law enforcement handles celebrities accused of criminal acts, as well as celebrities victimized by crime.
  • Parish, James Robert. Hollywood Bad Boys: Loud, Fast, and Out of Control. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 2002. A revealing collection of biographies of Hollywood male celebrities who are known for extremes of behavior. No biography of Gibson but helpful for understanding the culture that celebrates rough-edged actors.

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