Holocaust experts have expressed “some concerns” over director Taika Waititi’s portrayal of Adolf Hitler in new film Jojo Rabbit.
The comments follow the new film – set during the final months of the Second World War – being screened at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
In the movie, Waititi’s Hitler appears as the imaginary friend of the film’s 10-year-old protagonist. The young boy dreams up the character as a result of missing his father and being confused by Nazi propaganda. “This is not the Adolf we know and hate, this guy is goofy, charming, and glides through life with a childlike naivety,” an official description of the character reads.
The LA event last week saw the museum’s director Liebe Geft, hold a panel with guests Rick Trank (who produced the Oscar-winning documentary The Long Way Home), Claudia Wiedeman (director of education at the USC Shoah Foundation) and Brian Levin (Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism).
Trank said that he “felt very disconnected” from Jojo Rabbit, expanding: “While the intentions are very admirable … I’m a guy of a certain age, so I’ve studied this, it’s been my profession. I grew up with the Shoah in my family, it’s not theoretical to me.
“I’m worried about the generation of grandchildren, should I be lucky enough to have them, and their friends and what they’re learning. My concern about this movie is when a younger person who isn’t as knowledgeable or who doesn’t really understand, [who] doesn’t know about the Second World War, doesn’t have really any connection to the Shoah, they see something like this and they see kind of a madcap wacky Hitler and these madcap kind of wacky Nazis, what are they walking away with?”
Wiederman, meanwhile, said that the film could prove helpful in teaching a younger generation about the Holocaust. “With satire, the challenge is balancing the absurd with the real,” she said.
“A film like this, or really any film for that matter, that’s used in the educational space, is not really educational material, yet, unless it’s surrounded by historical context to help support students’ understanding of what they are seeing.
“In the times we are in right now, the need for media literacy, the ability to critically understand messages coming at you, is an act of citizenship. So we can use a film like this well, safely in and safely out, as we say in the field of Holocaust education, and we can do that when we surround it with really powerful materials and we at the Shoah Foundation will do that through the use of survivor testimony.”
An NME review of Jojo Rabbit describes the film as “broadly affable” and “twinkly-eyed”.
“It is out of necessity that Waititi relies on chutzpah and charm to get us through. Thankfully, the witty script has more than enough of both to ensure that any time momentum starts to waver, a zippy one-liner pours life back into the picture. “