Sarah Silverman Explains Hollywood’s ‘Jewface’ Casting Controversy

Sarah Silverman has a bone to pick with Hollywood.

In a time when actors playing anything other than their own race — something which used to be strangely common — has become the height of controversy, there’s still a lot of people doing what Sarah explains might be considered “Jewface.”

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Speaking on the latest episode of her podcast, the standup complained:

“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.”

The controversial topic came up after the recent casting of Kathryn Hahn, a non-Jewish woman who was raised Catholic, as the late great Joan Rivers. Sarah mused:

“One could argue, for instance, that a Gentile playing Joan Rivers correctly would be doing what is actually called ‘Jewface.'”

She continued by explaining the term’s meaning, saying:

“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?”

It’s a good question. And not out of nowhere.

You may not even think about the fact that Monica Gellar and Rachel Green on Friends were Jewish — because they were played by Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston. In the film This Is Where I Leave You, about a Jewish family sitting shiva, the mom is played by Jane Fonda. Just in the past couple years, Rachel Brosnahan has garnered acclaim for playing a Jewish housewife turned comedian in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Aussie model Ruby Rose‘s Batwoman was Jewish, and in the long-awaited Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic On The Basis Of Sex, the Jewish icon was played by Brit Felicity Jones.

Sarah actually complained about the subject on her podcast last year as well, explaining the core of the problem: that Jewish characters played by Jewish actresses tend to be side roles — often reinforcing negative stereotypes:

“The parts I get to play, you’re either a sassy friend of the main character… or you’re this c**ty girlfriend before the guy realizes what love really can be, or you’re that guy’s book agent. But if the character deserves love or is brave or good or righteous, you will be played by a Felicity Jones or the woman who plays Mrs. Maisel.”

The only recent roles we could find that buck this trend are Rachel Bloom in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson in Broad City — and in both cases the stars were the co-creators of the projects themselves. Hmm.

Inneresting how Sarah was already complaining about this months before the new casting — almost like Hollywood is following the exact pattern she noticed.

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