In early September, director Joshua Newton was working on the rollout of his Holocaust movie Beautiful Blue Eyes when he received a troubling email. Peter Ruppert, a digital media buyer for the film’s distributor, MovieFarm, informed Newton that Facebook had banned the filmmakers from promoting or advertising the recently finished 2009 thriller, which marks Roy Scheider’s final performance, on its platforms. The social media giant said the film’s title, which refers to the eye color of a child who perished at the hands of the Nazis and invokes a key scene in the movie, violated its policy against content that “includes direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s race,” among other personal attributes.
Newton, the son of two Holocaust survivors who based his film on his late father’s experiences, was disgusted.
“This is the action of haters – and there are sadly many in our society – who seek to damage the film in order to trivialize the Holocaust,” Newton told Rolling Stone at the Toronto Film Festival. “Surely, Mark Zuckerberg did not intend this to happen.”
The filmmakers appealed, and Facebook upheld the ban in a brief message to Ruppert obtained by Rolling Stone. “After a requested review of your Facebook account, we confirmed it didn’t comply with our Advertising Policies or other standards,” the note read. “You can no longer advertise using Facebook Products. This is our final decision.” Advertising for the film, including trailers, was now “permanently restricted.”
Beautiful Blue Eyes centers on an NYPD cop (Scheider) who has spent decades haunted by the murder of his family during World War II. When he believes he has found the Nazi responsible for their deaths, he enlists his estranged son to help him exact revenge. It’s unclear how the film’s title violated Facebook’s race policy given that people of any race can have blue eyes. The stated rationale would presumably subject the promotion of a literary classic like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye to a similar ban.
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The British director believes that the ban significantly diminished prospects for the film, which opened in 431 theaters in the U.S. on Sept. 9. “Every decent and sane human being on this planet should be alarmed by Meta-Facebook’s ban on the advertising of a Holocaust-related film,” Newton adds. “Mark Zuckerberg has created a monster that has no oversight. It’s one thing to be flagged by an algorithm. It’s another for Meta-Facebook employees to review the flag and uphold it, knowing full well that the title is not discriminatory and that the film is Holocaust-related.”
One of the actors in the film, Alexander Newton, the son of the director who performs Beautiful Blue Eyes’ titular song, says he was informed that any advertising or promotion of his artist’s page is also permanently banned by Facebook and Instagram.
“It’s incredibly ironic [given that] both the movie and song are about a Holocaust survivor,” says the younger Newton. MovieFarm CEO Martin Myers tells Rolling Stone that the ban is “completely outrageous.”
The Facebook ban isn’t the first roadblock the elder Newton has faced with the film. In 2008, Jaws icon Scheider died after battling multiple myeloma before the film’s completion. Due to a problem with one of the cameras, some shots were lost. But the director used AI technology developed in recent years to repair the damaged frames, allowing him to edit and release the movie as he originally envisioned.
Facebook ads have become a key component of any film launch, particularly smaller films that can’t afford broadcast commercials or space on highly visible billboards. It’s uncommon for Facebook to ban advertisements for a film. Among the rare exceptions, Facebook nixed ads for Amanda Milius’ pro-Trump documentary The Plot Against the President in October 2020, weeks before the presidential election. At the time, a Facebook spokesperson referred reporters to its policy that requires ads about social issues, elections or politics to take additional steps to make the cut.
Facebook has been blasted by both sides of the political divide for censoring speech and its outsized role as a gatekeeper of ideas. Numerous posts, from criticism of the Chinese government to breastfeeding photos, have been pulled, sparking backlash and condemnation.
Newton, for his part, says he is now mulling his legal options. “Clearly, [Mark Zuckerberg] is far too busy developing his company’s presence in the metaverse,” Newton says. “Instead of focussing on virtual reality, Zuckerberg should take note of what is happening in the real world.”