‘Jewface’ talk is dangerous, says director of new Mirren film Golda

Guy Nattiv said that Golda Meir's family suggested Mirren take the role


The director of a new biopic starring Helen Mirren as Golda Meir has told the JC suggestions that the British actress should not play the Israeli leader because she is not Jewish was a “very dangerous conversation”.

Addressing the “Jewface” row that erupted last year when actress Maureen Lipman told the JC that she “disagreed” with the casting “because the Jewishness of the character is so integral”, Guy Nattiv said the view was “so limiting for Israeli and Jewish actors”.

“Let’s say that only Jews can portrays Jews. Does that mean Jews cannot portray non-Jews? It’s a very dangerous conversation now,” Nattiv said.

Presenting Golda at the Berlin Film Festival this week, where it premiered out of competition, Nattiv admitted he was “surprised” by the concern around Mirren’s casting.

He added: “Because in Israel, we don’t have this controversy. We are so proud that Helen is representing Golda. As Israelis we don’t understand why it’s so important.”

He pointed out that other recent movies have not gone down this route, notably, Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical The Fabelmans, where the actors playing the Jewish family at the heart of the film are almost entirely played by “non-Jews”.

Nattiv added that Mirren aside, the production was almost entirely Jewish-Israeli.
“I understand if a non-Jewish Israeli would tell the Golda story, it may be [not] authentic enough. I’m Jewish-Israeli. My editor is Israeli. I bought Israeli actors to surround her,” he said.

Among the Israeli cast, Rami Heuberger plays Defence Minister Moshe Dayan and Ohad Knoller is cast as military commander Ariel Sharon.

Nattiv added: “I felt that, because I’m Israeli, because I’m a third-generation Holocaust survivor, I have the authenticity to tell this story.”

The director also pointed out that it was Meir’s grandson, Gidi Meir, who first suggested that Mirren play the late Israeli leader. “He came with this idea,” said Nattiv.

Nattiv, who previously won an Oscar for his 2018 short Skin, first met Mirren at his home in Los Angeles, and immediately felt she was right for the part.

He said: “I thought I was meeting a family member. She felt like my aunt. She had all the layers of a Jewish person. So for me, it was not even a question.” The film focuses on Meir’s time during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel faced attacks from coalition forces from Egypt and Syria.

Nattiv hopes the production will show Meir as the leader she was, warts and all. “She was a straight woman, she was not corrupt,” he said. “She resigned and she took responsibility. I don’t think any Israeli leader would do that right now.”

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