Gary Susman
August 29, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

At the end of a day marked by an anti-”Passion” rally in front of its parent company’s New York headquarters, Twentieth Century Fox announced Thursday that it would not be releasing Mel Gibson’s movie about the Crucifixion. The studio has a first-look deal with Gibson’s company, Icon Productions, but Fox has waived its option, noting in a statement that Icon ”has a number of alternative distribution options that it is pursuing. In light of that, Fox and Icon have agreed not to partner on this project.”

Gibson has said he plans to release the movie on Ash Wednesday in 2004. Earlier this week, Variety reported that four independent and quasi-independent studios (Newmarket, Lions Gate, Paramount Classics, and Sony Classics) had approached him about distributing the movie, which he financed himself, directed, and cowrote.

About 25 protestors, including Jewish leaders and New York city councilors and assemblymen representing largely Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn, staged a protest Thursday in front of the Manhattan headquarters of News Corporation, which owns Twentieth Century Fox and the Fox broadcast and cable networks. Echoing recent statements of concern by such Jewish organizations as the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the protestors said they feared ”The Passion” raised old charges of deicide, collectively blaming the Jews for Jesus’ execution, and could incite anti-Semitic violence. (Gibson has denied charges of anti-Semitism, and Christian leaders from Gibson’s handpicked preview audiences have praised the film’s artistry and fidelity to the Gospels.) When word came down that Fox had passed on the film, the protestors cheered, the New York Daily News reports.

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