Jewish director says Facebook banning ads for his Holocaust film was shameful

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Sarah Bolger and Alexander Newton in a scene from "Beautiful Blue Eyes." Credit: Courtesy of MovieFarm.

Joshua Newton said the tech giant’s move hurt his film’s prospects.

BY ALAN ZEITLIN

 A son of Holocaust survivors is demanding an apology from Facebook for blocking ads for his newly-released film “Beautiful Blue Eyes.”

British filmmaker Joshua Newton said the tech giant’s move hurt his film, which was released in 143 theaters earlier this month.

When his ads featuring the late actor Roy Scheider were flagged with a message that they violated Facebook’s policy against content that “includes direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s race,” Newton assumed it was an algorithm error. He grew increasingly frustrated when on an appeal, Facebook upheld the ban in a “final decision.”

He said the claim that it violated a race policy made no sense, as the phrase “blue eyes” is in no way racist, nor is it limited to one nationality, and that his film is geared at fighting hatred rather than promoting it.

Only after Rolling Stone released its story on the controversy, Newton believes Facebook was motivated to lift the ban. He learned about the volt-face on Sept. 16 by reading about it in an article on the Ars Technica technology new site.

“My view is that someone there has something against the film,” Newton told JNS. “There are people that don’t want the film to succeed. Obviously, [Facebook founder] Mark Zuckerberg is one of us [Jews], but he has 72,000 employees.”

“Beautiful Blue Eyes” stars Scheider in his last role, as chain-smoking retired New York Police Department officer and Holocaust survivor who, while visiting his son in Germany, believes he has run into the Nazi who killed his family a generation earlier. It features performances by Scheider, who plays Joseph; Scott Cohen as Joseph’s son Ronnie; and Alexander Newton, who plays the young version of Joseph and has a climactic scene with a Nazi who hunts him in the woods.

The film was originally filmed under the name “Iron Cross.” Newton explained that in 2008, a camera malfunctioned, damaging pivotal footage, but he was able to recover it with AI technology. Scheider died from cancer on Feb. 10 of that year.

Writer/director Joshua Newton with Roy Schieder. Credit: Courtesy.

“I was going to reshoot those scenes. I arranged for the set to be transported to where he lived in the Hamptons,” Newton said. “As the shipment was arriving in New York, that morning, he died.”

Newton said that after Scheider’s death, he had to change the film to a version that was “non-linear” and included many flashbacks. There was no real commercial release of “Iron Cross,” but it had a showing in a small Los Angeles theater and won a few awards from those who screened it on DVD, including from the Museum of Tolerance.

He said in the last year, new technology enabled him to repair the film and use scenes that had been unusable. He re-edited the film and made numerous changes that match the version that he had in his original screenplay. “Beautiful Blue Eyes” is very different from “Iron Cross,” he explained.

The new title of “Beautiful Blue Eyes” comes from a scene that persuaded Scheider to take the role; three days before he died, the actor asked if the movie title could be changed to that name, Newton said.

The Facebook ban was extremely frustrating because he had no opportunity to reason with a representative of the social media giant, Newton explained.

“Facebook is one of the biggest companies in the world,” he said. “How is it possible you cannot get a person on the phone or customer service? It’s crazy.”

A spokesman for Facebook, or Meta, as it now calls itself, told Ars Technica, “We reviewed the ads and page in question and determined that the enforcement was made in error, so we lifted the restriction.”

Newton’s father, Bruno, survived the Holocaust as part of the Kindertransport and had a sister who was murdered by the Nazis. Newton said he wondered what his father would do if he met the person who he believed killed his parents; that was the inspiration for the film.

Bruno has since passed away. Newton’s mother, Zina, who is still alive, survived by fleeing Antwerp as the Germans invaded by hiding in homes. Zina told him she once hid under a table while bullets flew during a battle between German soldiers and French resistance fighters.

Newton recalled that as a child, he saw his parents watching a BBC documentary that included a scene of corpses of Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

“It marked me for all my life, and since then, I’ve been asking how such a thing was possible,” he said. “The rise of anti-Semitism today is horrific, and people don’t learn from the past.”

His son also had social media ads blocked when he recorded the song that shares the film’s title. Alexander Newton’s song, his first single, has garnered 324,000 hits on YouTube.

The younger Newton told JNS, “It’s madness that they would ban ads for a movie and a song for a title that is not offensive to anyone. It’s a complete shocker.”

Joshua said that the film will be available to stream on a new platform called MovieFarm in about a month.

Newton said if Zuckerberg apologized and “invited him to a steak dinner,” he would meet with the tech tycoon.

“It’s been quite a long journey to get here,” said Newton, adding that he attended a Jewish school growing up. “I don’t want the Holocaust to be forgotten.”

 

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