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Disney faces tough sell for next Gibson movie

In 2004, Mel Gibson was able to whip up a groundswell of support for his controversial film “The Passion of the Christ” by showing it in churches and to religious leaders around the country.But Gibson may have a tougher time appealing to those same faith-based audiences for his next film, “Apocalypto,” given his arrest last week on suspicion of drunk driving and "despicable" remarks Gibson
/ Source: The Associated Press

In 2004, Mel Gibson was able to whip up a groundswell of support for his controversial film “The Passion of the Christ” by showing it in churches and to religious leaders around the country.

But Gibson may have a tougher time appealing to those same faith-based audiences for his next film, “Apocalypto,” given his arrest last week on suspicion of drunk driving and "despicable" remarks Gibson made while being taken into custody.

Marketing the movie was already going to be tough. The film's characters speak in an ancient Mayan language, much as the characters in “Passion” spoke in Aramaic and Latin.

The movie also has no stars and it's topic, about the decline and fall of the Mayan empire, is not typical box office fare.

Disney had been counting on using Gibson's star power and his past success to market the film.

Last September, at a showcase of the studio's 2006 slate, held at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, Gibson surprised a packed house of press and theater owners by taking the stage to promote the film.

Barbara Walters is done with Gibson

Disney may have no other choice but to use Gibson to build an audience for “Apocalypto.” But that approach is risky, as evidenced by a comment made Monday morning on the ABC talk show “The View” by Barbara Walters. ABC is owned by Disney.

“I don't think I want to see anymore Mel Gibson movies,” she said, citing reports that Gibson spewed anti-Semitic remarks after being stopped for suspicion of drunk driving early Friday morning in Malibu.

An official police report on Gibson's arrest was sent to prosecutors on Monday, substantiating claims that he made anti-Semitic remarks and threatened a deputy, a law enforcement official said.

The report also says a tequila bottle was found in Gibson's car when he was pulled over on the Pacific Coast Highway.

In a statement issued Saturday, Gibson said he "acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said."

“The guy is trying to stay alive,” publicist Alan Nierob said.

Disney would not comment on the controversy Monday, simply issuing a statement that “‘Apocalypto’ has completed filming and is in post production. It's release date is Dec. 8.”

The film was originally set to be released this weekend, but was postponed because of filming delays.

Gibson's production company is also working on a miniseries for ABC based on a book about a love story that takes place during the Holocaust. No script has been written for the film yet, according to ABC spokeswoman Hope Hartman. Gibson himself is not set to direct or star in the film, she said.

Gibson's remarks also drew the ire of Jewish leaders and of Ari Emanuel, an influential talent agent at Endeavor who blasted Gibson Monday on the Ariana Huffington blog HuffingtonPost.com.

“At a time of escalating tensions in the world, the entertainment industry cannot idly stand by and allow Mel Gibson to get away with such tragically inflammatory statements,” Emanuel wrote.

Will audiences boycott ‘Apocalypto’?

Emanuel said the entertainment community should react to Gibson's remarks by “professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line.”

Whether audiences will boycott “Apocalypto” remains to be seen. No such campaign had gathered steam as of Monday.

The evangelical Christian community, which embraced Gibson's “Passion,” will likely be split by the recent controversy, said Bob Waliszewski, media specialist with "Focus on the Family."

“There will be some people who will blog on their Web site ‘Don't go’ because of this DUI incident,” Waliszewski said Monday.

“Will I boycott his film if these things turn out to be true? The answer is no. For me, a movie stands or falls on its own merits.”

But Waliszewski said he is concerned by Gibson's behavior.

“If he really was drunk, that is wrong for anyone with his visibility, especially with the idea that he is claiming to be a Christian,” Waliszewski said. “I share the concerns that many people are feeling right now.”

One Christian scholar said Gibson's lengthy apology would go a long way toward regaining the support of the evangelical community.

“The people that I hang around with know that we're all kind of broken people and none of us have it down altogether,” said Kurt Fredrickson, director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.

“Here's a guy who's been very prominent the past couple of years in religion, in Christian circles, and he's saying, ‘Look at me, I'm not perfect.’ I think grace and forgiveness goes a long way.”