No, Jewish characters don’t need Jewish actors

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I was never a fan of the late Joan Rivers.

Nonetheless, I would have looked forward to the TV series based on his life.

Except that doesn’t happen.

First, the network was unable to secure the rights to its story.

But, all along, there had been a quieter time controversial simmer in the background.

It was simply this: The actress who was to play Ms. Rivers was Kathryn Hahn, who is not Jewish. Some observers thought that was wrong – that only a Jewish actress could play Joan Rivers.

It wouldn’t have been Kathryn’s first time portraying a Jewish woman. She played Rabbi Raquel Fein in the Amazon Prime series, Transparent. She was my favorite character. I felt that I knew Rabbi Fein. I was sure that we had attended several rabbinical conferences together. That’s how good she was in the role.

Not to mention the most famous Jewish woman played by a non-Jewish woman – Midge Maisel in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel from Amazon Prime, performed by Rachel Brosnahan.

Again – flawless in every way.

But, there is a new sensibility marching in the entertainment industry. Increasingly, casting directors are wary of characters played by actors who look like them – in terms of race, disability and sexual orientation.

Enter the term “Jewface”. It’s the creation of comedian Sarah Silverman, which purposefully echoes the old hated practice of white gamers donning blackface to play black. people.

“I think playing is playing and I understand that all this identity politics is annoying. I love watching an actor play a character that’s very different from what he or she is – but at the moment portrayal is important. So it must finally also matter to the Jews. “

British author David Baddiel, whose book, Jews don’t matter, is a shattering tale of anti-Semitism, okay.

“In an ideal world, anyone could play anyone. In the world we live in, more and more, it is simply the case that minority roles have to be played by actors of that minority … So if Jews are somehow exempt from this restriction, you have to ask yourself Why ? And the answer is: because the Jews don’t matter.

In my humble opinion, this is not the right fight.

Consider the role of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. The character himself is rooted in classic anti-Semitism. Almost all of the actors who played Shylock, including Junius Brutus Booth; his son Edwin Booth; John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier – were good guys.

You could say that having Gentiles play Shylock was an act of (let me make up a term) theatrical colonialism, in which the Gentiles wielded dramatic power and objectified the Jews. You could say it would have been better if the Jews had played Shylock, and you would be right – if there had been a sufficient number of Jewish actors in the era of the theater.

But, even when there were a large number of Jewish actors available, Patrick Stewart, Al Pacino, and F. Murray Abraham – nice actors, all – played Shylock. So are the Jewish actors, notably Jacob Adler and Dustin Hoffman.

Shylock was an equal opportunity role.

Think of Tony Shalhoub. He is a great actor. His origin is Lebanese Christian.

Yes, he played the conductor of the Egyptian police in the musical The Band’s Visit.

But, he also played Midge’s father in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Yes. An American Arab played an Ashkenazi Jewish man.

“I always have the impression that we are actors”, Shalhoub Recount the New York Post. “We were trained to – at least I was – not to play myself, to play characters. And so it’s disturbing to me that they limit the actors.

Think of Desmond Barrit reflection on the experience of playing Shylock: “My first thought when I was asked to play Shylock was, ‘But I don’t look Jewish! Which is weird. We all have our ideas of what a Jewish person should look like, and probably most of those ideas are anti-Semitic. “

Bingo. A Jewish identity policy would remind us that the Jew is not a race, and therefore anyone can “look Jewish”. Which means that a Jew looks like nothing, or looks like nothing.

We may wish that only actors A play characters A.

But, we won’t like it. We will not like that only Italians can play Italians; French plays French; Jews play Jews – and wait: Christians play Christians.

I don’t think we want to go.

Finally, let me give Sarah and David Baddiel a little slack. Let me try to put their concerns in a broader perspective.

I understand their concerns. We live in a time of heightened sensitivities, and Sarah and David are simply saying that Jews are not to be erased from these sensitivities.

I am sensitive to such problems – even hypersensitive, susceptible and pugnacious. I demand that the Jews count. I protest against any act of erasure and especially against self-erasure.

Sarah and David see what we see. They see an increase in anti-Semitic acts and disproportionate criticism of Israel.

So yes: I understand. The Jews are suffering and we feel vulnerable and a little beaten up.

So Sarah Silverman and David Baddiel are not wrong. They are just, like many of us, raw. When hate makes you raw, you see it in places where it probably isn’t. You lose perspective.

As Sir Ian McKellen patiently Explain to Andy Millman / Ricky Gervais in Extras: “I pretend to be the person I represent in the movie or the play…” The veteran actor says that when director Peter Jackson invited him to play Gandalf, McKellen declared, “You know that I am not really a wizard.

This is called “acting”. Which means to represent someone who is not you, and who does not look like you. For the actor / actress who plays a particular ethnicity, this moment can be educational and revealing.

This is how it worked for Ben Kingsley, who played Yitzchak Stern in Schindler’s List. To concern talk to him about how this role has affected him personally.

I loved David Baddiel’s book. I deeply respect Sarah Silverman, whose sister is a colleague and whose family lives in Israel. She is a proud and unfiltered Jewess.

My advice: Save your well-meaning outrage for the next real outrage.

Because it will happen, and we will need your voices,


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