What Sarah Silverman says about Jewish actors, Jewish roles

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Take a look at the cast of Apple TV’s latest comedy + “The Shrink Next Door”. Or that of Amazon “The wonderful Mrs. Maisel“or” Transparent “.

What do all of these shows have in common? A bunch of non-Jews are playing Jewish characters. It’s a phenomenon that some in Hollywood have called “jewish face. “

The term refers to a non-Jew playing a Jewish with stereotypical Jewishness in the foreground. Consider sporting frizzy hair or invoking a strong New York accent and Yiddish inflection. It was not a historical practice in the same way that racist Blackface was in minstrel shows.

Actor Sarah silverman addressed this issue on her podcast, frequently pointing out that Jewish actresses never seem to score roles as Jewish characters. At the end of September, she discussed a Time article on the subject when Kathryn Hahn was chosen to play Joan Rivers in a limited series on the life of the late comedian. Hahn is not Jewish. (USA TODAY has confirmed that the project is no longer moving forward at Showtime; a rep has not commented on whether cast backlash played a role in that decision.)

Silverman said Hahn had done nothing wrong – but a long history of non-Jews playing Jews has spread to Hollywood. “At a time when the importance of representation is seen as so essential and so in the foreground, why is ours constantly being violated, even today, in the thick of it? “asked Silverman.

Jewish actors – and actresses in particular – are often not cast in Jewish roles, which experts say propagates stereotypes and is symptomatic that Hollywood still relies on inclusion. Approach the subject with caution and sensitivity.

“The issues of representation, minstrel, and appropriation are tricky enough, and then there’s the whole question of whether people who aren’t Jews should play Jews,” says Judy Klass, Senior Lecturer in Studies. Jewish and English at Vanderbilt University. “Just accept the complexity, accept the ambiguity. This stuff is strange, and it becomes more and more strange and sensitive as bigotry becomes more open than ever in decades. “

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Eastern European Jews founded Hollywood Studios decades ago, but they didn’t make many films about Jews – especially in the 1930s when anti-Semitism was growing. in the world, Klass says. If a movie called for a Jewish character, a good guy would almost reflexively take that role.

“It’s a long-term problem in Hollywood,” Klass says.

Classic examples of this across the years run the gamut: Natalie Wood as the main character of “Marjorie Morningstar”; Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “Based on Sex”; Rachel Brosnahan as the main character in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”; Kathryn Hahn as Rabbi Raquel in “Transparent”; and Jane Lynch as Mrs. Rosie Brice in the Broadway revival of “Funny Girl”.

“There are so few good roles for Jewish women or roles of any kind for Jewish women,” Klass says. “And Jewish women are so often stereotyped in ugly ways that when there is a role like a romantic lead, it’s such a rare thing that I wish Jewish women could play it.”

Jewish actresses like Barbra Streisand, Gal Gadot, Natalie Portman, Alicia Silverstone, and Rachel Weisz certainly had huge (and Oscar-winning) opportunities. But more examples of Jewish women playing Jewish characters and more opportunities to create their own stories would ensure greater representation.

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Silverman cited Rachel Bloom, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as examples of Jewish women writing, producing and performing on their own shows like “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Broad City”. Comedy, said Silverman, has always made more room for Jews.

Yet there are few roles for Jewish women. And when these roles to do exist, they are based on stereotypes, Klass explains. Like a nagging Jewish mother (think Ms. Wolowitz on “The Big Bang Theory”) or a spoiled American Jewish princess (think Shoshanna Shapiro on “Girls.)”

This sets off a wildfire of trouble when no Jews are involved at all. A production of “Falsettos“in the West End in 2019 was criticized by British Jews because no Jews were chosen; the show is based on Jews making jokes about themselves.

The question remains thorny, however: if someone like Meryl Streep, who played the Jewish character of Ethel Rosenberg in “Angels in America”, was perfect for a role, should the producers refuse to choose her as such?

“One of the reasons it’s tricky is that no one knows exactly what Jews are,” Klass says. “Because people who are not very religious are still Jews. Many of them feel culturally Jewish. Many people who want to assimilate completely would still be considered Jews by Hitler, but also by modern white supremacists. This is a very obscure question. “

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But some don’t find it all so cloudy. “I don’t think it’s problematic in general that non-Jews are playing Jews,” says Michael Berkowitz, professor of modern Jewish history at University College London. There are much bigger issues that Jews in America need to focus on – the dangerous anti-Semite QAnon, for example.

He thought “Jewface” could make a fascinating “Calm your enthusiasm“plot – and it turns out it is this season: Larry David (as a fictional version of himself) tries to create a new show called” Young Larry “à la” Young Sheldon “and suffers a blackmail to launch a non-Jewish Latina girl as a Jewish girl.

Berkowitz adds that Jews exist across racial lines, and it’s problematic to think of them as a monolith in the first place.

“There are Jews in every racial group,” he said. “There are black Jews, brown Jews everything, although people tend to associate them in different ways, largely because of stereotypes. “

Silverman acknowledged that more pressing issues lurk in the world – but recognizes that something may be important in a different way: “Are there worse things I could worry about?” Yes of course. But here we are.

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