Unless you’re new around here, you know Jew in the City has been on a mission to fight AntiSemitism on screen. It seems like a simple ask — authentic representation of Jews in TV and in movies — yet is an uphill battle that sometimes feels like quite the slow climb.
This past Sunday, however, one step was taken in the movie industry, when Jew in the City hosted a panel called, #MeJew: Antisemitism, Authentic Representation, and Jewish Identity in Hollywood alongside Variety Features Editor Malina Saval who wrote the award-winning article, Too Jewish for Hollywood: As Antisemitism Soars, Hollywood Should Address Its Enduring Hypocrisy In Hyperbolic Caricatures of Jews.
The two discussed the major issues that both Orthodox and secular Jews have on-screen. Jewish roles are often cast with non-Jewish actors (enter “Jewface”), storylines featuring “Jewish law” make Orthodox Jews look like horrific people and the law they discuss is completely false. Jews are often stereotyped to look like money-hungry animals or referred to as “good looking, for a Jew,” just to name a few examples.
The room was packed — more than 100 squeezed in to hear what Allison and Malina had to say, and to ask questions of their own. When the floor opened up during the last 20 minutes of the 90-minute panel, at least 50 hands flew into the air.
One important takeaway that Allison and Malina agreed on, is that it’s not a competition with other minorities. Jews aren’t trying to take down anyone else in order to get fair representation. We just want a seat at the table — the same seats that are offered to other minority groups in entertainment.
We want to appear on screen as the happy, real, people that we are — not caricatures of the negative stereotypes we’re trying to get away from — the ones that actually have no basis in reality and are a real threat to so many Jewish lives when people believe them.
We want stories that show positive representation, a side that is rarely, if-ever depicted. We want Jewish actors to play Jewish characters and know that their own Jewish soul is an asset to that work, not a deterrent.
The Jew in the City Hollywood Bureau is about to commission an impact study with a leading academic entertainment group about these tropes and the effect they have on audiences. This is a top priority because in order to create real change, studios need data to work off of. The data can ideally convince them of the importance of more authentic content creation.
While the Sundance Panel proved successful in getting conversation started, it unfortunately had its hecklers and while it’s par for the course, also just shows how much more work needs to continue to be done.
To watch the full event for yourself and learn more, click here.
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I was very interested in this discussion. I am a child of holocaust survivors but yet I’m very secular. However I have strong Jewish identity and a Jewish soul
I agree with terrible stereotypes of Jewish people The orthodox get a bad rap and it’s true it depicts them as happy when they leave
Please continue to send other material my way. I try to educate people of all backgrounds about Jewishness and how proud I am to be a Jew.
Both Chana and Malina gave excellent presentations, very informative and compelling. Thank you for all that you do.
Chana’s point, that, if a person’s only knowledge of Chassidim is that of a xenophobic or misogynistic character on TV, then maybe it’s a mitzvah to punch a real-life chasid in the face, brought up memories of a different sort. I refer to Hollywood’s penchant to portray Jews (whether religious or irreligious) in other ways that make it socially acceptabe to bully us. The entertainment industry will use Jewish characters to fill roles that brand them with the most demeaning labels that the society has to offer: “wimp,” “geek,” “computer nerd,” and similar gems.
Examples abound. A few from my youth included “Diff’rent Strokes” (Robbie labeled a “nerd” in one episode and identified as Jewish and having a bar mitzvah in another), “The Marshall Chronicles” (a smart but meek Jewish high school kid living in fear of bullies), “Independence Day” (Jewish computer expert saves the world by typing very quickly on a laptop), and “It” (the one Jewish character of the bunch cowardly killings himself rather than fight the enemy).
The message is clear: “Since you’d never want to be a ‘nerd,’ and would love to bully one if given a chance, you’d never want to be a Jew, either; by the way, it’s fun to bully Jews, too.” In fact, such a thing happened to my wife’s friend in real life. She was at a university and told a fellow student that she was going to miss a couple of days for Rosh Hashanah.
“Oh, so you’re also a nerd?” he asked,
She stood up for herself: “No, I’m a Jew.”
Perhaps Jew in the City can also address that kind of horrible stereotype: the Jew as a wimpy social reject (even though he’s not a bigot) whose only purpose in life is to be brutalized by the “cool kids” who actually matter.
By the way, the antisemite who called my wife’s friend a “nerd” was way off base. The young lady had spent three years on her high school’s cheerleading team including one year as team captain. Not exactly “nerdy.”
Interesting site, a friend sent it to me.