Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Opens Permanent Exhibit About Jewish Founders of Hollywood

Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Opens Permanent Exhibit About Jewish Founders of Hollywood

Shiryn Ghermezian

From left: Sam Warner, Harry M. Warner, Jack L. Warner, and Albert Warner, undated. Photo: Courtesy Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is set next month to debut its first permanent exhibition, which will examine the start of the American studio film industry in the early 20th century in Los Angeles and the impact predominately Jewish filmmakers had on turning the California city into “a global epicenter of cinema,” the museum announced on Thursday.

Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital will open on May 19 in the LAIKA Gallery of the museum, which is located in Los Angeles. “It details how the American movie industry — built predominately by Jewish immigrants — transformed Los Angeles into the mythological concept of ‘Hollywood’ that prevails today, as well as the complex legacy that the studio system leaves behind,” the museum explained.

“The American film industry began developing amid an influx of immigration to the United States by Jewish émigrés escaping European pogroms and poverty,” said Dara Jaffe, the exhibit’s associate curator. “Most of Hollywood’s founders were among this wave of Jewish immigrants and recognized that the infant movie business presented an opportunity to raise their marginalized status in an industry that didn’t enforce the same antisemitic barriers as many other professions. Hollywoodland also posits the question: how and why did Los Angeles bloom into a world-renowned cinema capital? The goal of our exhibition is to show the inextricable dovetailing of these histories.”

The exhibition is divided into three sections that visitors can view in any order. “Studio Origins” explores the founding of Hollywood’s original eight “major” film studios, which are often referred to as “the majors” — Universal, Fox (later Twentieth Century-Fox), Paramount, United Artists, Warner Bros., Columbia, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and RKO — and their studio heads.

The section of the exhibit titled “Los Angeles: From Film Frontier to Industry Town, 1902–1929” follows the evolution and advancement of the movie industry in Los Angeles. A third section — “From the Shtetl to the Studio: The Jewish Story of Hollywood” — features an original short documentary that “delves into the nuances of Hollywood’s Jewish history, exploring how the shared backgrounds of the industry founders weave together a complex immigrant story characterized by both oppression and innovation.”

The documentary further “examines how antisemitism shaped the founders’ trajectories throughout their careers and how their projected vision of an immigrant’s American Dream came to define America itself on movie screens around the world.”

Academy Museum Director and President Jacqueline Stewart said the stories shared in Hollywoodland “bring the intertwined histories of Los Angeles and the Hollywood studio system to life and resonate with stories of immigrants from around the world.”

The exhibition’s opening day will feature a conversation with Jaffe and book signing with Neal Gabler, a film critic who advised on the exhibit and wrote An Empire of their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood.

The Academy Museum is the largest museum in the United States dedicated to the arts, sciences, and artists of filmmaking.

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