Amazon released David Weil and Jordan Peele’s series “Hunters” on Feb. 21 to mixed reviews, not to mention controversy about stereotypes and invented scenes set in Auschwitz.
The show, which has a 65% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, follows a group of vigilantes in 1977 New York as they seek revenge against Nazis conspiring to create a Fourth Reich in the United States.
The “Hunters” squad, a diverse collection of survivors and activists led by Al Pacino’s Meyer Offerman, recruits Logan Lerman’s Jonah Heidelbaum after his grandmother is murdered in their home. Jerrika Hinton’s Millie Morris is drawn into the plot when she is assigned to investigate the death of a NASA scientist by the FBI.
While the characters and scenarios are fictional, the premise of “Hunters” alludes to Operation Paperclip, a real intelligence initiative during the Cold War. The United States government recruited German scientists — including Nazis — to work against the Soviets.
The show’s use of heavy Yiddish accents and gefilte fish puns has raised concerns about Jewish stereotypes.
“Well, the characters don’t really read as all that Jewish to me — they seem to be an amalgamation of mostly uninterrogated Jewish stereotypes refracted through the lens of 1970s blaxploitation movies. Which I’m sure is ‘the point’ — I’m just not sure to what end,” Rabbi Benjamin Resnick told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “I also thought it was full-on camp. Which begs the question: Is that an appropriate way to treat Holocaust material?”
Monika Rice, director of Holocaust and Genocide Studies Programs at Gratz College, had similar impressions.
“Many of the characters are a kaleidoscope of clichés that don’t really make sense,” she said. “For example, an American Jewish boy in the ’70s probably would not have called his grandmother the Hebrew word ‘safta’ — a Yiddish or English word would be more realistic.”
The creators’ decision to alternate comic book-style action and dark comedy with the torture of war criminals and flashbacks to concentration camps has generated controversy among viewers, educators and Holocaust memorial organizations.
One scene that provoked particularly strong reactions was a fictional game of human chess set in Auschwitz. In the scene, Nazi guards used prisoners as game pieces and forced them to kill each other as they were taken off the board.
On Feb. 23, the Auschwitz Memorial tweeted, “Auschwitz was full of horrible pain & suffering documented in the accounts of survivors. Inventing a fake game of human chess for @huntersonprime is not only dangerous foolishness & caricature. It also welcomes future deniers. We honor the victims by preserving factual accuracy.”
David Weil, the show’s executive producer, defended the scene in a statement to Deadline. He explained that he created it to “counteract the revisionist narrative that whitewashes Nazi perpetration, by showcasing the most extreme — and representationally truthful — sadism and violence that the Nazis perpetrated against the Jews and other victims.”
Weil also stated that he purposefully gave the Jewish prisoners in the show tattoo numbers above 202,499, the highest recorded number given to a prisoner at Auschwitz.
“I didn’t want one of our characters to have the number of a real victim or a real survivor, as I did not want to misrepresent a real person or borrow from a specific moment in an actual person’s life.”
Geoffrey Quinn, education director at the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, said he believed both parties approached the issues with extreme care.
“They don’t want erasure of the horrors people experienced,” he said. “And I understand what the creators are trying to get across with the chess scene, which is the sadism and cruelty that Holocaust victims had to endure.”
According to Rice, the depiction of Nazis forcing Jewish prisoners to torture and kill each other is consistent with witness testimony.
“Although we do not have evidence that this particular chess match took place, a game where prisoners were forced to kill each other may have happened,” Rice said. “This was the extent of the Nazi’s sadism and cruelty.”
Quinn and Rice did not share the memorial’s concerns about the show’s potential to inspire Holocaust denial.
“The best way to prevent Holocaust denial is to implement accurate Holocaust education,” Rice said.
Overall, Quinn encourages teachers to use documentaries and survivor testimonies rather than Hollywood TV shows and movies when educating students about the Holocaust.
“At the end of the day, context is key. It would be a mistake to use ‘Hunters’ as an educational resource in a classroom,” he said. “But it’s also creating a conversation about important issues like the rise of anti-Semitism in the U.S. and across the world.” JN