In today’s media environment, representation is key. After too many years of the Caucasian, Christian, heterosexual male dominating our screens, the call for diversity has only gotten louder and will continue to do so.
Last week, comedian and actress Sarah Silverman called out Hollywood for “Jewface“. In laymen’s terms, it is when a non-Jewish actor plays a Jewish character (ala Kathryn Hahn playing Joan Rivers in the upcoming biopic). Her description of this phenomenon is as follows:
“It’s defined as when a non-Jew portrays a Jew with the Jewishness front and center, often with makeup or changing of features, big fake nose, all the New York-y or Yiddish-y inflection. And in a time when the importance of representation is seen as so essential and so front and center, why does ours constantly get breached even today in the thick of it?”
In response to Silverman’s comments, actor Tony Shalhoub, who plays Rachel Brosnahan’s father in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, (neither of whom are Jewish) said the following:
“We were trained to — at least I was — to not play myself, to play characters and so it’s troubling to me that they’re limiting actors.”
He is right. An actor’s job is to pretend to be someone else. As long as they can play the role, it shouldn’t matter what their ethnicity or family background is. The problem is that too often, a character who is a minority is either ground down to the base stereotype or the actor is Caucasian, but the person they are playing is a POC.
I think she has a point. The problem as I see it is both in casting and the writing. If every performer was hired solely based on their race, religion, or where their ancestors came from, dramatized fiction would be severely limited. While it would be nice to see a Jewish actor playing a Jewish character, I have to be realistic. For me, it comes down to the script. The person I am seeing on screen must be fully drawn. If the writer(s) rely on how they think a Jewish person (or anyone) thinks or feels without making them human, that is where the problem lies.