There were international headlines—the Guardian said it showed shocking levels of ignorance. I started to think—how do you talk to young people? What’s the comedic voice that would Trojan Horse this generation into thinking about these things?
Each of the people around the table in your film have specific relationships to Anne’s story. Did you start writing them with those relationships in mind?
I started with who would be in this room. I wanted the comedy to come from a language that people would understand, that they were used to seeing on a show like Succession: a boardroom meeting, or people you’d know in the office. Yes, that one has a crush on this one, they would be hungover, and they would bring in an influencer. I wanted their opinions to change over the course of the meeting, and have them present ideas that people might actually suggest.
I like how everyone brings in their own personal facts about Anne Frank.
Everyone in the film knows something about Anne. For many people, for better or worse, she’s the way into the Holocaust. She was young, she was hopeful—she makes you think, that could have been you, your sister, your neighbor. She is a symbol, because she is only one story. And there are six million stories just like hers, and like the character Ben says in the film, if people knew the story of every single Anne Frank, their heads would explode.
One suggestion thrown out in the film that all these feminist icons like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Maya Angelou be displayed next to Anne in the gift shop. I laughed out loud, but it also fits in a way.
“One of the many questions that have often bothered me is why women have been, and still are, thought to be so inferior to men.” Anne wrote that on June 13, 1944. She was so ahead of her time. She was also funny. She wrote, “Sometimes I think my face is going to sag with all this sorrow, my mouth is going to droop at all the corners.” I feel like that’s a Lena Dunham line.
One of the many depressing, horrible things about this story is … she was three years younger than Mel Brooks. Mel Brooks is still making comedy, he’s still relevant. She could have been here, now. Her childhood friend just had a book published.
And yet because we’re in this overwhelming digital age, we are struggling to make the Holocaust feel present.
There’s this idea that young people have access to too much tragedy. They have their phones and they’re constantly being bombarded with horrible things happening in the world. Scientists legitimately have a name for this phenomenon—empathy fatigue—that organizations have to deal with.
We have a whole bit in the film about TikTok. Actually, the Anne Frank House is on TikTok. The content is educational, not people doing a dance in front of the Secret Annex but they are there—they have to go where young people are.
Dark humor is the heart of this film, and there’s a Jewish tradition of making comedy out of our tragedies. I was thinking immediately of Mel Brooks and Larry David.
And a couple of years ago we had Taika Watiti’s JoJo Rabbit, this movie about a German boy whose imaginary friend is Hitler. You can’t get much darker than that. He won an Oscar. It showed how you can take a sacred subject and treat it with humor.
Plus Dave, which really went there this year with Anne Frank specifically.
In that episode of Dave, there’s a rumor that Little Dicky is dead. His manager is psyched because of the publicity. He hides in this hotel room, and compares himself to Anne Frank, and ends up hallucinating that he’s talking to Anne. He reveals to her that her diary became a global hit, and she freaks out because the world knows her innermost thoughts. And Dave is trying to reassure her: No one came out of the Holocaust looking better than you.
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