A lawsuit filed by a Jewish labor activist in 1925 took down Henry Ford’s antisemitic newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, in a real-life drama that riveted Americans.
A century later, the saga is set to become an on-screen drama, too, as a Jewish-interest production company is developing a film based on an academic study of Ford’s antisemitism and the libel lawsuit that blunted its reach.
Leviathan Productions is adapting the 2012 book “Henry Ford’s War on Jews and the Legal Battles Against Hate Speech” by Victoria Saker Woeste, a research professor at the American Bar Foundation. The book focuses on Ford’s acquisition of the Independent in 1919, which he transformed into an antisemitic tabloid while at the height of his fame and influence as an automotive visionary.
Under Ford’s ownership, the Independent published, among other headlines, “The International Jew: The World’s Problem,” and the paper was freely distributed at Ford dealerships. It played a major role in disseminating “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an antisemitic forgery purporting to detail the secret plan for Jewish world domination, throughout the United States in the interwar period. That document continues to animate antisemitism today.
Aaron Sapiro, a farm workers’ rights advocate, sued the paper for libel in 1925 after it published antisemitic allegations about his California cooperative farming movement. The trial two years later was a major First Amendment case and resulted in Ford agreeing to shutter the paper.
Leviathan Productions launched last year with a goal of bringing more Jewish stories to screen. It was founded by Ben Cosgrove, a film and TV producer whose credits include the Oscar-winning “Syriana,” and Josh Foer, journalist and co-founder of the adventure travel brand Atlas Obscura as well as of the online Jewish text repository Sefaria. The company previously announced that it is producing a film version of “The Pledge,” a nonfiction account of U.S. Jews’ role in Israel’s 1948 war for independence, and a horror film based on the Golem of Prague.
Ford’s antisemitism was also a plot point in the 2020 HBO adaptation of the Philip Roth novel “The Plot Against America.” In the story’s alternate-history United States where Charles Lindbergh becomes president, Ford serves in his cabinet and helps implement antisemitic policies. A recent experimental documentary, “Ten Questions For Henry Ford,” directed by Jewish filmmaker Andy Kirshner, also delved into his antisemitism.