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Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens on May 19

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is introducing its first permanent exhibition this weekend. “Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital” will be on view starting Sunday, May 19, 2024. The exhibit explores the origins of Hollywood’s movie studios and tells the story of Eastern European Jews who immigrated to the United States to escape pogroms and anti-Semitism, only to encounter more anti-Semitism in the northeastern United States where many settled. Young Jewish entrepreneurs, eager to succeed in their adopted country, faced discriminatory barriers and limited opportunities in established fields like law and business. However, an emerging new entertainment medium known as motion pictures was considered beneath the elites and of little value. These Jewish entrepreneurs seized the opportunity and made the movie business their own.

One of the main obstacles in their path was the anti-Semitic, world-renowned inventor Thomas Edison. Edison held the patent on a portion of the film-making process and was reluctant to relinquish control to Jews. To escape Edison’s influence, these young Jewish trailblazers moved across the country to a small section of Los Angeles known as Hollywood. From there, 3,000 miles away from Edison on the East Coast, they were able to establish their own studios free from his control. As a result, these immigrants thrived, creating an industry that continues to leave a significant cultural mark on the United States and the world. The “Hollywoodland” exhibit tells this compelling story.

The exhibition is elaborated in three distinct parts: Studio Origins, an exploration of the founding of Hollywood’s original eight “major” film studios (often referred to as “the majors”) and their respective studio heads; Los Angeles: From Film Frontier to Industry Town, 1902–1929, an immersive projection experience where visitors trace the evolving landscape of Los Angeles alongside the advancement of the movie industry; and From the Shtetl to the Studio: The Jewish Story of Hollywood, a short form documentary, narrated by TCM host and author Ben Mankiewicz, that illustrates the experiences of the Jewish immigrants and first-generation Jewish Americans who were primarily responsible for building the Hollywood studio system. The exhibition is designed for visitors to enter and exit through the same door so that they can experience these three sections in any order.

Studio Origins explores the establishment of the studio system and “the majors”—Universal, Fox (later Twentieth Century-Fox), Paramount, United Artists, Warner Bros., Columbia, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and RKO—and the studio heads that shaped them. Visitors will learn about each studio’s origin story through dedicated multimedia displays highlighting significant milestones, movies, filmmakers, locations, and gain a deeper understanding of how the studio system transformed the American film industry.

Multi-media displays allow guests to learn about the origins of each of the 8 major studios that created Hollywood.

Los Angeles: From Film Frontier to Industry Town, 1902–1929 illustrates how the landscape of Los Angeles developed alongside the newly established and quickly expanding film industry, redefining the city itself. Consisting of an animated tabletop map of Los Angeles and choreographed projection screen, this section of the exhibition features a timeline structured around a series of chronologically revealed locations relevant to the city’s early film industry, such as filming locations, studio locations, and cultural landmarks. It will also address lesser-known stories of independent producers active in early 1900s Los Angeles. While 1902–1929 is the focused timeline, the experience will quickly “rewind” and “fast-forward” in and out of the present day to connect and ground visitors in a current, more familiar version of Los Angeles. The map encourages visitors to further explore this history through the Academy Museum’s digital Hollywood Past and Present experience.  

From the Shtetl to the Studio: The Jewish Story of Hollywood is an original short-form documentary that delves into the nuances of Hollywood’s Jewish history, exploring how the shared backgrounds of the industry founders weave together a complex immigrant story characterized by both oppression and innovation. Narrated by Ben Mankiewicz, the documentary features archival imagery and film clips, illustrating the larger global context at the turn of the 20th century as well as personal narratives of the predominantly Jewish founders of the Hollywood studio system. The film examines how antisemitism shaped the founders’ trajectories throughout their careers and how their projected vision of an immigrant’s American Dream came to define America itself on movie screens around the world.  

‘From the Shtetl to the Studio: The Jewish Story of Hollywood.’ The 30 minute documentary narrated by Ben Mankiewicz is the most pivotal part of the exhibit.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is located at 6067 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036. The museum is open six days a week from 10AM to 6PM. It is closed on Tuesdays. For more information, visit https://www.academymuseum.org/en.

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