News, Feb. 17: Jewish Leader Wants Vatican’s Stand on “Passion,” Janet Jackson Feted For Charity Work, Madonna Does Prison Film, More…

Top Story: Jewish Leader Wants Vatican Response on Gibson Film

A prominent Jewish leader has asked that the Vatican respond to Mel Gibson‘s controversial The Passion of the Christ, Reuters reports. Abraham Foxman, the U.S. director of independent Jewish pressure group the Anti-Defamation League, met with several Vatican officials and urged them to instruct Catholic bishops around the world to issue statements locally telling their congregations that the film, which depicts the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ’s life and has been deemed anti-Semitic, is an artistic work and not a pure portrayal of gospel accounts. “It’s Mel Gibson‘s version of the gospel, it’s Mel’s gospel. He’s entitled but he’s promoting it as the gospel truth,” Foxman told Reuters. “He’s promoting it as biblical, historical truth and I believe the Church has a responsibility to its teachings, its interpretation, and this is at variance with what the Church is all about.” Foxman added, “I would hope that the Vatican and the Catholic Church would stand up to defend its teachings because in fact what the film is an interpretation that challenges what the Church has been teaching for the past 40 years.” Foxman also challenged Gibson to appear in an on-screen postscript to tell viewers not to blame Jews for the death of Jesus Christ or else his “passion of love would turn into a passion of hate.”

Jackson Honored for Charity Work

Making her first public appearance since Nipplegate, Janet Jackson received an award Friday for her humanitarian and charitable contributions from Behind the Bench, an association of NBA players’s wives that has raised nearly $1 million for charities in Los Angeles. “She has done a wonderful job giving back to communities across America. That fact has not changed,” Behind the Bench spokesman Vince McCaskill told The Associated Press. “She was on board with this seven months ago. We never even considered her not being here.”

Canadians Decry Conan

Canadian politicians are up in arms over comments made about French Canadians on The Late Show with Conan O’Brien, AP reports. The NBC show, paid for partially by the Canadian government, was taped in Toronto last week in an effort to boost the city’s tourist industry, still reverberating from the SARS outbreak last year. During a pre-taped skit, sock puppet Triumph the Insult Comic Dog hurled his usual repertoire of insults at visitors attending Quebec City’s Winter Carnival, particularly at French Canadian separatists. Alexa McDonough, a member of Parliament for the New Democratic Party, said the sketch was “vile and vicious” and amounted to hate-mongering, AP reports. NBC has declined comment, and O’Brien mentioned the topic only in passing in his monologue during the taping of the final Toronto show on Friday afternoon.

Rings Picks Up Another Award

Along with winning the top prize at the BAFTA Awards over the weekend, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was also named the best period or fantasy film at the 8th annual Art Directors Guild Awards Saturday, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Mystic River was awarded best art direction in a contemporary film.

Angel Gets the Axe

The WB has canceled the supernatural drama Angel, a spin-off from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, AP reports. “We did not want to contemplate this being the last year of Angel without giving the show the option of crafting their own destiny for this character and for this series,” WB co-chairman Jordan Levin told AP. Angel has struggled in the ratings, but maintains a loyal cult-fan base and has had strong reissue sales on DVD.

View‘s Jones To Wed

TV correspondent Star Jones, co-host of ABC’s daytime talk show The View, was surprised Sunday at the NBA’s All-Star game when boyfriend Al Reynolds presented her with a ring and asked her to marry him, AP reports. Audience member Denzel Washington led the cheers as Jones covered her face in amazement.

LeBlanc, Wife Welcome First Child

Matt LeBlanc and his wife, Melissa, had their first child, a girl, Feb. 8, according to The couple married in May. Melissa has two children from a previous marriage.

Grunge Rocker Turned Politician?

Not quite. Former Nirvana bass player Krist Novoselic will not be running for lieutenant governor in his home state of Washington as previously planned, but he does plan to remain active in politics, AP reports. Novoselic, who contemplated running for office in November, said he would keep working with Music for America to boost voter participation among young people and continue his efforts for election reform but concluded, “the whole thing about running a campaign and being a public servant isn’t the way to do it.”

Role Call: Tina Turner Goes Indian, Madonna Goes To Jail

Pop singer Tina Turner has signed on to play an Indian goddess in the new Ismail Merchant/James Ivory film The Goddess, AP reports. Details about the film are sketchy, other than that it will include classic Indian songs. “I think Ismail (Merchant) chose me because of my shakti (strength) within,” said Turner, who is a Buddhist. “I’m special in that I’ve had a long run and I’m still here.”…Meanwhile, Madonna and her production company, Maverick Films, are developing a movie based on the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the project follows the infamous experiment conducted by professor Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University to explore the psychology of evil by recruiting 12 college students to role-play prison guards and inmates. Zimbardo’s experiment was discontinued when the participants began taking on their roles with harrowing results. No director or stars are attached as yet.