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Culture

Gibson’s vicious tirade imperils an already fading career

Text by Jon FROSCH

Latest update : 2010-07-15

Leaked recordings of actor Mel Gibson launching a furious, racially-charged tirade of abuse against his ex-girlfriend are being billed as the final chapter in the Hollywood star's spectacular fall from grace.

Mel Gibson was once known for his high-wattage smile and brash onscreen charm. But things have changed for the actor who earned People magazine’s first “Sexiest Man Alive” title, soared to international stardom in the “Lethal Weapon” action-comedy franchise, and took home a Best Director Oscar for historical epic “Braveheart”.

Four years ago, Gibson’s name figured in unflattering headlines after he launched into an anti-Semitic tirade while being arrested for drunk driving. Now, Gibson is again in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, after recordings surfaced online in which he is heard using racist and sexist epithets and threatening his former girlfriend (and mother of one of his children) with violence. The furious, raspy-voiced rants have been billed as the final chapter in a spectacular fall from grace.

A stream of slurs and expletives

In a recording of a phone argument between Gibson and his Russian-born ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, Gibson excoriates Grigorieva for dressing provocatively, saying that if she got raped by a “pack of n******”, she would be to blame. In the conversation, which Grigorieva admits to recording but denies leaking online, Gibson also calls his ex a “whore” and a “bitch in heat”.

In a second tape, Gibson describes a Hispanic housekeeper as a “wetback”, a derogatory term that refers to immigrants who swim across the Rio Grande river along the US-Mexico border to illegally enter the US.

Another recording has Gibson threatening to kill Grigorieva. "I'll put you in a f***ing rose garden”, he yells, before adding, "You need a bat to the side of the head". The words carry a particularly sinister relevance, given past allegations that Gibson once knocked out several of Grigorieva’s teeth.

Transcripts of the arguments, which reportedly took place over the course of the couple’s breakup in January, were leaked to celebrity Web site Radaronline.com without any indication of where they came from. The recordings were subsequently published on another site, Digital Journal. Although they have not been authenticated, Gibson has yet to release any statement of denial since they started popping up online on July 9.

The fallout

The 54-year-old Gibson is no stranger to controversy. The American-born, Australian-raised actor, who has admitted to being an alcoholic and considers himself a Traditionalist Catholic, was accused of anti-Semitic undertones in his 2004 directorial effort “The Passion of the Christ”. More than a decade earlier, in 1991, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) had criticised Gibson for using homophobic slurs in an interview with Spanish daily El Pais.

Since news of Gibson’s most recent diatribe surfaced, the consensus on gossip blogs and Twitter accounts and between industry insiders and reporters seems to be that Gibson’s once stellar career is now officially over. The Los Angeles Times reported that “a number of Hollywood talent agents and studio executives…see little way Gibson would be hired as either an actor or director on any mainstream film”. Owen Gleiberman, an influential film critic at magazine Entertainment Weekly, wrote, “Who could Mel Gibson now conceivably portray in a movie?” before concluding that the prospect of Gibson’s career recovering is “seriously doubtful”.

Indeed, there have already been consequences: Gibson's agency, William Morris Endeavor, dumped the actor the day the recordings appeared online, while Hollywood news site imdb.com reported that the studio releasing Gibson’s upcoming film “Beaver” was at a “standstill” as to how to proceed.

Gibson’s racial insults also provoked a strong reaction from the African-American community. The Los Angeles branch of civil rights organisation NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) said in a statement that "an apology is insufficient given [Gibson’s] history of racism, sexism and anti-Semitism,” and called for a boycott of Gibson’s films.

But at least one African-American star, the actress and talk show host Whoopi Goldberg, has come to Gibson’s defence. “I know that he's not a racist…. having spent time with him in my house with my kids", Goldberg said.

It is difficult to determine the extent to which negative press has already dented Gibson’s popularity. But he has become an increasingly rare screen presence, starring in just one film since 2002. The movie, action thriller “Edge of Darkness”, received decidedly mixed reviews and did lukewarm business at the box office.

Date created : 2010-07-15

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