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The Accidental Turitz: Facebook Got Caught Censoring Advertising for a Holocaust Movie and Now It May Get Sued

September 20, 2022 04:18 | By
12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men image via United Artists

I don’t get really mad all that often. Peeved? Yes. Aggravated? Sure. Irritated? Rather easily, actually. It’s something for which my wife makes great fun of me, how quickly I will express displeasure at someone for thoughtlessness or douchebaggery — like when you let someone cut in front of you in traffic and they don’t wave a thank you, or then turns without using their signal, or that jerk who doesn’t pick up after their dog and leaves it for you to step around like you’re navigating a minefield — but I like to think this is a relatively small character flaw that I mask with a great deal of wit and charm.

When I do get angry, though, it’s best to stay as far away from me as possible, because the result is akin to a nuclear explosion. Like, say, last week, when I was on my morning ride on Route 7 north, from Pittsfield to Lanesborough, when a guy saw me coming and pulled out of his driveway anyway, nearly hitting me and forcing me to break so suddenly that I went off my bike. I yelled at him, but instead of lowering his window and apologizing for almost killing me, or even asking if I was okay, he flipped me the bird and drove off.

And it wasn’t just the middle finger, either. It was that obnoxious version of the bird that includes an extended thumb, so the bird-flipper’s hand resembles an exotic L. It’s worse than the casual kind of hand gesture because it actually requires more effort than just raising one’s middle finger, and thus has added vitriol attached. This guy wasn’t just disinterested in the fact that he’d almost hit me with his car, he aggressively wished me ill.

After he drove off, leaving me there in front of his house, dusting myself off, and yelling at him, I noticed it was garbage day, and that he had several bags of rubbish awaiting pickup by the Berkshire County Sanitation Department.

So I trashed his lawn. He has a set of four garden gnomes decorating the front of his house, so I grabbed those and tossed them in amongst the refuse, as well. I also blocked his driveway with some of the crap.

Then I got on my bike and kept on riding, but even after my tantrum, it was another 12 or 15 miles before I finally calmed down. I rode by there again a few days later, and there was no trace of my outburst, but I know it cost him time and aggravation cleaning it all up. That gave me a small amount of satisfaction.

Beautiful Blue Eyes

Roy Scheider in Beautiful Blue Eyes/Moviefarm

Those kinds of occurrences used to happen far more often, but are increasingly rare as I get older. I have chilled out, certainly, and have learned that most of the time, it’s just not worth the effort.

Sometimes, though, a little bit of rage is a good thing. Especially when there is an injustice committed that is so despicable, so infuriating, that a little nuclear blast is exactly the kind of reaction required.

You’re probably asking yourself right now, ‘what does this have to do with entertainment?’ At least, I know my editor is.

But there’s a movie that just came out a week and a half ago called Beautiful Blue Eyes. It’s about a retired New York cop whose family was wiped out in the Holocaust, and when he goes to Germany to visit his estranged son, he believes he sees the now-aged Nazi who murdered his family. It features Roy Scheider’s final performance, and if you’re wondering how that could be, since the two-time Oscar nominee died in 2008, I wouldn’t blame you, but the thing is that when the film was shot that year, a broken camera meant one scene couldn’t be used. Writer-director Joshua Newton cut together a version of the movie he called Iron Cross, but then changed his mind and put the project on the shelf because it wasn’t what he wanted it to be.

Years passed and technology developed to the point where during the pandemic, he was able to fix the footage using AI. He then cut it back together the way he’d initially envisioned and released it through Regal Cinemas on September 9th. The night before the nationwide release, I had the pleasure of hosting a Q&A with Newton at the New York premiere. Newton and I talked about how the movie was inspired by his own father’s experience as a Holocaust survivor, the somewhat brave decision to let the project sit on a shelf for more than a decade on the off chance that he’d be able to fix it someday, and working with Scheider, who actually suggested the movie’s title, which is based on one of his lines in the film.

Newton was excited about his passion project finally seeing the light of day. He was thrilled that people would, at last, get the chance to see it after all this time, and he was gratified that Scheider’s powerful final performance would get the credit it deserved.

And then, Facebook screwed him.

The dominant social media site blocked all advertising for Beautiful Blue Eyes because, according to the note sent to Newton, the film’s very title violated Meta’s policy against content that “includes direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s race,” among other personal attributes.

When Newton appealed, this is the response he received: “After a requested review of your Facebook account, we confirmed it didn’t comply with our Advertising Policies or other standards. You can no longer advertise using Facebook Products. This is our final decision.”

So, basically, having “blue eyes” in the title somehow implies assertions of implications about a person’s race, regardless of the fact that literally anyone, of any race, can have blue eyes.

When Newton told me about this, I saw red.

It wasn’t just the absurdity of the initial ban, which is easily explained by an automated system that might pick up on keywords and make a programmed decision accordingly. The issue was with the human review, the intransigence of refusing to reconsider or take into account a little thing called context, and the dismissal of an important movie about a Holocaust survivor, even as Facebook continues to allow enormous levels of hate speech and antisemitism on its various platforms. Much of this speech, in fact, attempts to trivialize or even deny the Holocaust entirely.

Newton and his team were essentially shut out by Facebook and prevented from any further appeal, so I reached out to the company’s press relations department, asking them how this could happen and why Meta would allow this silencing of a Holocaust movie to occur. Pretty quickly, I got a response from an unnamed Meta spokesperson, who said, “We reviewed the ads and page in question and determined that the enforcement was made in error, so we lifted the restriction.”

Beautiful Blue Eyes

Beautiful Blue Eyes image via Moviefarm

That was last Thursday, and the ban was, indeed, lifted, but the damage was done. The capricious move — a move that could have been entirely avoided in the first place had someone just been doing their job — cost the movie a chance to advertise on all Meta platforms (including Facebook and Instagram, among others) throughout its first week of release. Thus, it effectively killed any chance it had to establish some kind of grassroots box office success, and potentially cost the filmmakers tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

Facebook screws up and screws over a filmmaker, and what are the consequences? For Facebook and Meta, they are nil. Newton is filing a lawsuit against the company, but what are the odds that will actually produce meaningful results? It’s maddening, it’s infuriating, and it’s yet another example of a large company behaving badly without having to pay any kind of penalty for that behavior, while those affected suffer.

There has to be some form of accountability for this sort of thing. Some way for this kind of mistake to be rectified, and for the company itself to provide it. I won’t hold my breath that this will happen without some kind of external force, nor do I think there is any kind of reckoning on its way wherein the mega-conglomerate rethinks the way it does business.

Yeah, fat chance of that. In the meantime, I think it behooves us to take this example of corporate ineptitude bordering on malfeasance and use it to reexamine the role of social media in our lives, how much control we hand over to it, and how careless the companies are with our lives and livelihoods.

We’re continuing down a very dark road indeed, and getting off it will be difficult, but oftentimes, doing the right thing can be exactly that. Either way, this whole thing is worth getting mad about. Really, really mad… maybe even mad enough to trash another lawn.


Neil TuritzNeil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.

You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.