In recent years, we’ve seen all too clearly how fake news, fueled by social and mass media, can exacerbate social rifts and even rip communities asunder. A new film arriving in time for International Holocaust Remembrance Day takes that dynamic to the extreme by imagining how misinformation can literally obliterate history.
The documentary-style ad, from the Holocaust Museum L.A., depicts a near future, when the world mourns the death of the last Holocaust survivor. Day by day, the news reports recall her legacy, reverently following her funeral and capturing eulogies from community and government leaders. With her death comes the burial of the “last first-hand account of the worst mass genocide in history,” an announcer says.
A politician then steps up to the podium: “It’s an important reminder that we need to learn the lessons of history, so we don’t repeat the mistakes,” he stresses.
But by the ninth day following her death, the film takes a dark turn as new voices emerge. A right-wing talk show host spouts, “There’s a lot of evidence that what we know about the Holocaust has been greatly exaggerated. And suddenly, this old lady dies who we’ve never heard of and we’re supposed to stop asking questions?”
A month in, influencers and pundits also weigh in, anti-Semitic hate crimes rise sharply and nearly half the country denies the Holocaust ever existed. The effects travel all the way to the Capitol Building, where U.S. leaders pass legislation to teach “both sides” of every issue. The film then closes on a university classroom, where the professor presents a lesson to the class: “The Holocaust: Fact or Fiction.”
The new film arrives in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day but also comes as hate crimes are on the rise in the U.S, said Holocaust Museum L.A. CEO Beth Kean. In 2021, the FBI and the Anti-Defamation League found that 2020 saw the highest number of reported hate crimes in the U.S. in two decades, with Jewish Americans the group most frequently targeted over religious bias. 2020 also saw the third-highest number of anti-Semitic incidents since 1979.
“As we enter 2022, Holocaust Museum L.A. wants to change that,” Kean said. “This film speaks to the dangers of anti-Semitism, racism, hate, and misinformation. Now is a critical time to remember and learn about the Holocaust and to engage students in discussions on the dangers of hate and prejudice, Holocaust history, today’s worldwide humanitarian crises, and the importance of social justice. Holocaust denial and distortion online and social media is a critical contemporary issue, one which we feel is important to fight and is part of our intention for 2022 and beyond.”
The spot was created and directed by Eric Hirshberg, the former president and CEO of Activision and agency vet who had served as CEO and chief creative officer at Deutsch L.A. Since departing Activision in 2018, Hirshberg has devoted time to supporting important causes out of Will Work for Change, a creative network he founded to bring seasoned creative expertise and marketing to non-profits and mission-based organizations.
The point of the film is to show “the all-too-plausible process in which the tools of misinformation start to infect history,” Hirshberg said. The idea, he added, fits with the Holocaust’s Museum mission to educate. “People go the museum and leave horrified, but for some, it might feel like ancient history,” he said. “This piece brings it into the present.”
Previous efforts from Hirshberg's Will Work for Change include films for the DNC as well as a campaign for L.A. Hammer Museum starring Will Ferrell and Joel McHale pondering weird art.