Benjamin Netanyahu will not get the “Golda” Hollywood treatment – Bobby Ghosh

Bobby Ghosh discusses the new Hollywood biopic “Golda,” which portrays the life of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The film’s release was strategically timed around the war’s 50th anniversary. Ghosh acknowledges the restraint shown by the film’s distributors in not exploiting the ongoing conflict for promotional purposes. He praises Helen Mirren’s performance as Golda Meir but criticises the movie’s narrow focus, limited timeline, and lack of context. He highlights the absence of Arab and Palestinian perspectives in the film, suggesting that it sympathises and sanitises historical figures, as seen in other biopics. Ghosh also touches on the contrasting reception that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might receive in future biopics due to his more recent and controversial political career.

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History — and Hollywood — Won’t Spare Benjamin Netanyahu: Bobby Ghosh

By Bobby Ghosh

I can’t think of the last time a Hollywood release was as on the nose as Golda, the new biopic of the iconic Israeli prime minister. Its distribution was timed to loosely coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which is the setting of the film. That anniversary also seems to have informed the timing of the terrorist attack on southern Israel by Hamas.  

The distributors of the movie now screening in the US, the UK and Europe deserve credit for resisting the opportunity to exploit the ongoing war for promotional purposes. The protagonists of the current Israel-Hamas conflict have not been shy to draw parallels, and it would have been easy enough to market the movie as a historical lens through which to peer into the present.

Credit is also due to Helen Mirren, who plays Golda Meir with great restraint, resisting every temptation to chew the scenery. Appearing in virtually every frame of the film, the British actress delivers a pitch-perfect performance of a political leader in extremis, in a moment of existential crisis for her country.

The movie, however, is undermined by an excess of restraint on the part of its makers, director Guy Nattiv and writer Nicholas Martin. In restricting the timeline to just the 19 days of the war and limiting the scenery to a handful of rooms and offices, they fail to show the whole picture — of the woman, the war and the country.

We learn nothing of the life and career that brought Meir to the moment of reckoning, or of the events that led her country to the precipice. There is only passing mention, in a title card, that she was a controversial figure among her own people.

The war is attributed mostly to the errors of omission by Israel’s intelligence and military leaders, and not to those of commission by its prime minister: In the months leading up to the war, she repeatedly rebuffed offers of a peace settlement with Egypt. Nattiv and Martin want us to view Meir with compassion and admiration: The only warts they allow Mirren to show are those placed on her face by expert makeup artists.

There are no Arabs in the movie, except for a news reel near the end featuring Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat. Nor are there any Palestinians, whose very peoplehood Meir infamously denied. And the plight of the Israeli citizenry, amid military calamity and the dreadful prospect of being driven from their homeland, is represented by a single character, a stenographer, whose son is a prisoner of war: She gets two lines of dialogue.

For all the right-wing criticism that Hollywood has become too woke in its choices of script, character and casting, Golda shows that when it comes to biopics of historical figures, the movie industry continues to sympathize and sanitize rather than edify and explicate. This was true of my personal favorite, David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, in 1962, and no less true of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis last year. (I don’t expect Ridley Scott’s Napoleon, due next month, to break the mold.)

And Benjamin Netanyahu, for one, will hope Hollywood never changes. Golda is the kind of biopic the current Israeli prime minister would wish for himself: narrow in focus and devoid of context. It is, indeed, how he would like us to view him right now: a leader responding to a grave crisis, as if he played no role in its creation.

But Bibi, as Netanyahu is commonly known, will not be so lucky: Neither history nor Hollywood will show him the consideration that has been accorded Meir. Unlike her, much of his political career has played out in the internet age, and documented on social media. The information we have of any one of the 15 years of his prime ministership would likely drown the source materials on Meir’s entire life available to Nattiv and Martin.

Future historians and moviemakers will need exceptionally powerful blinkers to miss the controversies that have attended Netanyahu’s decades in politics, from the corruption charges against him to his crude attempt to undermine Israel’s judiciary and endanger its democracy. If there is a Bibi biopic 50 years from today, my bet is that it will not be as charitable to his memory as Golda is to Meir’s.

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