The Amazon Prime show Hunters, which follows a group of Nazi hunters in the 1970s, has gotten mixed reviews from critics, who’ve found it tonally confusing and jarring. It also got a very damning review from the Auschwitz Memorial, which says the show’s depictions of immense brutality are so exaggerated and historically inaccurate, they constitute “dangerous foolishness.”
Depicting the Holocaust in film or on television is generally tricky, often because it’s hard to convey the full brunt of the horror on screen. There was a lot of debate over whether or not the satirical film Jojo Rabbit treated the Holocaust too lightly. Roberto Benigni’s 1999 film Life Is Beautiful was widely criticized for using it as a vehicle for bittersweet comedy. Even Schindler’s List, the gold standard, was dismissed by some critics as being “too sentimental” about the Holocaust, if that’s a thing. As Variety reports, the Auschwitz Memorial thinks Hunters actually overdoes it, which ends up being torture porn.
The memorial’s Twitter account called a violent scene featuring a human chess game “dangerous foolishness” and a “caricature.” In the scene, which is depicted in the opening credits of all 10 episodes and plays out in the first episode, a Jewish chess master is held captive and forced to play a game of chess where the pieces are represented by fellow prisoners. A person is killed whenever the chess player loses a piece.
Here’s the statement:
Showrunner David Weil, whose grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, pointed out in a statement that the show is not a documentary, and that the chess scene under fire was a fictional event he included in the show’s first episode “[t]o most powerfully counteract the revisionist narrative that whitewashes Nazi perpetration, by showcasing the most extreme – and representationally truthful – sadism and violence that the Nazis perpetrated against the Jews and other victims.”
In general, there aren’t a lot of universally appeasing ways to turn real-life atrocity into entertainment, and even the most even-handed depictions have their problems. On the other hand, the biggest problem with Hunters is that it isn’t very good.