Alan Rickman who died at age 69 this week was known to a mass global audience for playing Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. Many of us remember his role in the beautiful Truly, Madly, Deeply. What most people did not know was like great British cultural figures Mike Leigh, Brian Eno, Elvis Costello, Roger Waters, Ken Loach and others Alan Rickman was political to the end. His final film Eye in the Sky was about the moral responsibilities governments face regarding the use of drones.
Actors and artists like high priced athletes are very chary about speaking out on social issues. It could affect their bottom line as the Indigo Girls discovered when they resisted the hapless GW Bush’s call to war. It now appears Rickman was a highly decent man who felt the need to speak.
Rachel Corrie as many know by now was an American International murdered in Gaza, in 2003, run over by a bulldozer as she was attempting to halt a house demolition.The craven US government did virtually nothing to protest this. The then U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told the Corrie family that the Israeli investigation was not thorough, credible or transparent.
Alan Rickman moved into action and in 2005 staged My Name is Rachel Corrie play about Rachel’s life.
On his death Rachel’s cousin Beth Corrie posted this on Facebook:
There will be many tributes to Alan Rickman, all richly deserved, but something very few will know about or mention is that Rickman was a strong supporter of Palestinian human rights, and it was his idea, along with Katherine Viner, an editor at the UK newspaper The Guardian, to take my cousin Rachel Corrie’s emails and journals and turn them into an excellent play. This play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, has been performed all over the world, in multiple languages, and has brought Rachel’s story to thousands of people. It has particularly inspired young people, who are moved by Rachel’s willingness to break out of the script of “success” and do something with her youthful energy that saved lives and witnessed for peace. Thank you, Mr. Rickman, for lending your artistic skill, and considerable reputation, to Rachel’s story, and making it accessible to so many people.
Rickman had been moved to produce the work, staged at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2005 after reading Corrie’s published emails in 2003. Corrie’s friend Rochelle Gause attended one performance accompanied by another friend of Corrie’s, and shared her account with The Electronic Intifada: “We sat through the play holding hands and shedding tears, nothing is as odd as sitting in a theater on the other side of the world watching a woman act as your murdered friend using only words written by Rachel on a stage replicating your town, her bedroom, her spirit. The play was so well done, so powerful, and after it ended Alan Rickman met us, bought us drinks and sincerely asked us if we thought the play was an accurate depiction.”
Katharine Viner, now editor-in-chief of The Guardian, was commissioned by Rickman to assist in editing the play.
She said that“Alan was deeply committed to politics – a compassionate Labour man to his core,” Viner recalled in her article, referring to the largest left-wing party in the U.K.
She shared her own memories of that time in an article this week.
“When asked recently about his proudest Royal Court moment, his answer was not about him,” Viner recalled of Rickman. “He said it was when he took Rachel Corrie’s parents outside the front of the theater to show them their late daughter’s name in neon lights.”
A wild success in London, the play was set to be staged at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2006, but the legacy of Rachel Corrie met roadblocks
As Viner told Democracy Now!, “The production schedule was finalized. Both sides of the Atlantic had agreed on a press release that was going to go out to the press, announcing the production of My Name is Rachel Corrie, and then the Royal Court, as I was told, received a telephone call saying that the play was to be postponed indefinitely.”
“Calling this production ‘postponed’ does not disguise the fact that it has been canceled,” said Rickman. ”This is censorship born out of fear, and the New York Theatre Workshop, the Royal Court, New York audiences – all of us are the losers.I never imagined that the play would create such acute controversy,” Rickman told leading Israeli newspaper Haaretz in a 2007 interview. “Many Jews supported it. The New York producer was Jewish and we held a discussion after every performance.”
Artistic Director James C. Nicola cited a variety of reasons for the “postponement” including the recent stroke of Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and “distorted accounts of the actual circumstances of Rachel’s death.”
“It seemed as though if we proceeded, we would be taking a stand we didn’t want to take,” Nicola told The New York Times, claiming that he had consulted “local Jewish religious and community leaders” to inform the decision.
Whether any Palestinian religious or community leaders were consulted is unclear.
A subsequent letter to The New York Times, signed by two dozen cultural figures, including the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter and author and actor Stephen Fry, stated: “The various reasons given by the workshop – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s coma, the election of Hamas, the circumstances of Rachel Corrie’s death, the ‘symbolism’ of her tale – make no sense in the context of this play and the crucial issues it raises about Israeli military activity in the occupied territories.”
“Rachel Corrie gave her life standing up against injustice. A theater with such a fine history should have had the courage to give New York theater goers the chance to experience her story for themselves,” the letter concluded.
There you have it–a small victory for the New York Jewish thought police.