"It would be a disaster if France would find itself in the same situation as this unfortunate handicapped person."
Weinstein seized on the comments by the fixture of France's far-right. Why? If your film is being accused of racial insensitivity, pick a fight with a real racist.
The 83-year-old Le Pen may have passed on the reins of the National Front party that he founded four decades ago to his daughter last year, but he continues to provoke from semi-retirement. It is a fitting continuation for a man who has repeatedly stoked up trouble, whether during his numerous presidential campaigns or otherwise. In his 1986 book, Pour la France, he asserted that France should prioritize European émigrés rather than the more numerous "Third World" immigrants who, due to their cultural-religious roots, tend to "refuse assimilation." He also suggested that many of these "Third World" immigrants -- read: Muslims -- are inspired by radicalism. In 2009, Le Pen asserted that immigrants and their children perpetrate 90 percent of crimes in France. (French law bans the gathering of statistics related to racial or ethnic backgrounds, so he was making a random -- and outlandish -- guess.) And let's not forget Le Pen's most infamous comment -- that the gas chambers of World War II were a "tiny detail" of history.
Weinstein certainly had a lot to work with here. So when The Intouchables premiered at New York City's Lincoln Center this month, Weinstein released a statement not only attacking the old Frenchman's interpretation of the film, but also Le Pen's politics and his daughter popularity. (She currently polls a strong third place in her quest for the French presidency.)
"It's not a surprise to hear such an intolerant statement from the man who founded and was president of the extreme-right, xenophobic, racist National Front party," Weinstein said in a statement. "Le Pen made a repulsive statement, representing a bigoted world view. And right now, Jean-Marie's daughter, Marine Le Pen, is running for president of France as the leader of the National Front party … with almost 16% of the population intending to vote for her. That's frightening to me, and I think it's important to speak up and speak out against Le Pen and his ideas."
If American filmgoers even know of Le Pen, few are likely to side with the xenophobic French nationalist whose views are shaped by France's lost grandeur. Weinstein's real point is that his film can't possibly be racist if France's most notorious living racist actually sees it as a disturbing plaidoyer for people to come together across racial, ethnic, religious, and class differences.
It is the sort of confrontation that high-level electoral-campaign strategists labor to orchestrate. The strategy involves boosting the most offensive or despicable critic of your client (to the detriment of more potentially credible ones) and then asking who wants to align with the devil, so to speak. Intouchable, untouchable -- you get the point.