Why won’t Hollywood let Jewish actresses play Jewish women?



Last week he was announced that Kathryn Hahn will play legendary actress Joan Rivers in The Return Girl, a limited series coming to Showtime, and while Hahn is undoubtedly a talented actress, the casting decision has raised eyebrows on social media due to the fact that Hahn is not Jewish. New York Times Writer Jason Zinoman summed it up best, tweeting: “Two thoughts maybe opposing: 1) Great actor, seems like a good choice 2) Maisel, Shiva Baby, now that. Hard to ignore that Jewish women are not chosen for these roles. ”

It is true that Hahn’s role as Rivers is one of a series of recent examples of non-Jewish women playing Jewish women on screen. Rachel Brosnahan, who won an Emmy for the lead role in The wonderful Mrs. Maisel – which is loosely based on Rivers and his career – is not Jewish. Rachel Sennott from Baby Shiva – not Jewish either. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish woman on the Supreme Court and the first Jewish person already lying in state on the United States Capitol after her death, was portrayed by Felicity Jones (who is not Jewish) in 2018 Based on gender. Hahn also played a rabbi on Transparent, which – despite powerful episodes about anti-Semitism, legacy trauma, and Yom Kippur – featured non-Jewish performers like the three Pfefferman siblings. 2014 This is where I leave you centered around a Jewish family sitting shiva for their recently deceased patriarch, but the mother is played by Jane Fonda and only one of four actors chosen, as her adult children are in fact of Jewish descent. In 2018, the CW Batwoman The series established that the superhero was Jewish but chose Ruby Rose, an Australian model, to play her. And of course, we can come back to sitcoms like Friends, where Monica and Rachel were both Jewish but played by Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston.

Representation is important, and while the stereotype that “Jews run Hollywood” persists, Jewish women remain noticeably absent from these roles. Seeing them systematically neglected in favor of any non-Jewish actress with brown hair is frustrating, but is it problem? Judaism and Jewish identity are, of course, much more diverse than what we see on screen; determining whether someone looks or acts like a Jew is impossible and entirely subjective because anyone of any race can be a Jew. We have finally reached a point where it is no longer socially acceptable for whites to play characters of other races or for cisgender actors to portray trans characters, and in recent years there have been more calls for that LGBTQ roles go to those who are genuinely openly part of the LGBTQ community. But religion is a little trickier; no one would blink if, for example, an actor who is not a practicing Catholic played a priest in a movie.

The difference is that Jews are an ethno-religious group, many of whom do not practice but still identify as culturally Jewish. Being Jewish means different things to different people, of course, but there is a shared lived experience that those who grew up non-Jews just don’t have. (For example, I’m half Jewish and not particularly religious, but I still get strangers on the internet tweeting nose emojis at me in response to my posts far more than I would like.) And in an industry where artists perform regularly changing their names to make them sound less Jewish (Rivers herself was born Joan Molinsky) or feeling pressured to change their appearance to “pass” for gentiles – thus opening up to more casting opportunities – it seems wrong that the few roles where a character is allowed to be openly Jewish go to non-Jews.

Sarah silverman addressed the issue on a podcast last year, discussing how she is frequently cataloged. “The roles that I can play, you’re either a sassy friend of the main character… or you’re that seedy girlfriend before the guy realizes what love can really be, or you’re the book agent of that. guy, ”she said. “But if the character deserves love or is brave or good or fair, you will be played by Felicity Jones or the woman who plays Mrs. Maisel.”

“Actors are actors and they should play all roles, 100%. Let me clarify that, ”she continued. “But … they finally do RBG the movie and it’s a British woman, Felicity Jones. Mrs. Maisel – God bless her, she is brilliant – not Jewish. Even in Bunny Jojo, which I loved, no one was Jewish. The Jew in the Wall was not even a Jew. It was an actress named McKenzie! “(Note that in Bunny Jojo, Jojo’s non-Jewish German mother who hides said Jewish daughter in the wall to protect her from the Nazis was played by Scarlett Johansson, who is Jewish but may have gotten the part because of her more Aryan appearance.)

“Is this the greatest injustice in the world? No, but I notice it, ”concluded Silverman. She is correct that when Jewish actresses are allowed to play Jews, it is often rooted in stereotypes; they are bossy executioners or awkward best friends. But when it comes to a lead role where the character is supposed to be conventionally attractive or, as Silverman pointed out, worthy of love, the role falls to someone else, perpetuating negative and harmful stereotypes. . The small number of nuanced and prominent roles for Jewish women who do not play in these tropes – like those played by Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson on Big city or Rachel Bloom on crazy ex-girlfriend – were created and written by the women who filled them out.

Of course, the Jewish people are not the only culture to be confronted with this. Gucci House recently took heat that out of its six main actors, only two are of Italian descent, and Chris Pratt recently caused a stir by playing the role of Mario in an animated film. Mario Brothers. movie. Jewish artists have historically played many characters of other ethnicities – like, say, James Caan playing Sonny Corleone in The Godfather or Lainie Kazan stealing scenes as a mother in My great Greek wedding – because Hollywood tends to lump all those who don’t look like a WASP into one large, interchangeable collection of vaguely ethnic whites.

This is perhaps most egregious in cases like a non-Jewish woman playing Rivers, who broke through so many barriers and never shied away from her Jewish identity (“I was the only Jewish child in a Catholic neighborhood. They all did Hail Mary, I did Hail Murrays, ”she once joked on stage), but maybe as a rule of thumb we should just go ahead and picking people who match their character’s cultural, sexual, gender and racial identities. It’s not difficult and it will help break down stereotypes and increase on-screen diversity. And if it helps convince the next one little girl who will make “Hail Murrays” that she belongs and that she can grow up to be who she wants to be – a Supreme Court justice; a glamorous and charismatic performer; literally anything she’s not a neurotic mother, it will be worth it.


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