Hollywood has a “Jewface” problem, comedian Sarah Silverman declared.
In her podcast dated Sept. 30, the “School of Rock” actor railed against productions that cast non-Jewish actors as clearly Jewish characters. (Watch it below.)
Silverman used last month’s announcement that Kathryn Hahn would play the late comic Joan Rivers for a Showtime series as a jumping-off point.
Silverman praised Hahn as an actor and said “singularly I have no problem with it.” But she called out what she sees as a trend, pointing out performances such as Felicity Jones playing Ruth Bader Ginsburg (“On the Basis of Sex”), and Rachel Brosnahan playing Midge Maisel (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”).
“There’s this long tradition of non-Jews playing Jews, and not just playing people who happen to be Jewish, but people whose Jewishness is their whole being,” Silverman said. “One could argue, for instance, that a gentile playing Joan Rivers correctly would be doing what is actually called ‘Jewface.’”
“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?”
“If a Jewish woman character is courageous or deserves love, she is never played by a Jew,” Silverman added.
Silverman admitted she had no solution and acknowledged her role in a “blackface” controversy from her old Comedy Central show. She also pointed out that a woman playing her mother in an upcoming play, based on her memoir, is not Jewish.
Hollywood’s representation problem has been under an intensifying spotlight, with rising criticism of white actors playing people of color.
“Identity politics is annoying,” Silverman conceded. “But right now representation fucking matters, so it has to also finally matter for Jews as well ― especially Jewish women.”