Hollywood stars including David Schwimmer and Julianna Margulies have signed an open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences saying their exclusion from the organisation’s diversity push is “steeped in antisemitism”.
More than 260 entertainment figures signed the letter, which was organised by Jew in the City’s Hollywood Bureau for Jewish Representation and submitted to the Academy on Tuesday.
It states: “We write as actors, directors, producers, executives, agents, screenwriters, and other industry professionals. While we applaud the Academy’s efforts to increase diverse and authentic storytelling, an inclusion effort that excludes Jews is both steeped in and misunderstands antisemitism.
“It erases Jewish peoplehood and perpetuates myths of Jewish whiteness, power, and that racism against Jews is not a major issue or that it’s a thing of the past.”
The letter blames this perception of “Jewish power” as an “excuse” for the persecution of Jews over the years, “which is seen today with antisemitic incidents at an all-time high since October 7.”
The Academy’s diversity standards were first revealed in 2020, with the identities that it considers “underrepresented groups” including women, LGBTQ+ people, having cognitive or physical difficulties, and racial or ethnic groups.
The standards ask productions to submit demographic information about its cast and crews so that they can qualify for Best Picture, but do not request religious status. The letter points out that being Jewish is not just about religion, but belonging to an ethnic group.
“While many mistakenly believe that Judaism is only a religion, Jews are actually an ethnic group, with a varied spiritual practice that not all observe. Jews are an indigenous people to the Middle East with a continuous presence there for over 3000 years.”
The letter goes on to say that the absence of Jews from ‘under-represented” groupings “implies that Jews are over-represented in films, which is simply untrue”. It points out the rarity of non-Holocaust-themed films about Jews, and that Jewish characters are often played by non-Jews.
“Jewish people being excluded from the Motion Picture Academy’s Representation and Inclusion Standards is discriminating against a protected class by invalidating their historic and genetic identity,” it says. “This must be addressed immediately by including Jews in these standards.”
The racial or ethnic groups listed in the Academy diversity standards are Asian, Hispanic/Latinx, Black/African American, Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native, Middle Eastern/North African, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, as well as “other underrepresented race or ethnicity”.
“There is a duty for the entertainment world to do its part in disseminating whole and human depictions of Jews, to increase understanding and empathy in viewers in these dangerous times. We ask the Motion Picture Academy leadership to do its part in advancing a just cause that has been ignored for too long,” the letter concludes.
Among the entertainment figures who signed the letter include Josh Gad, who is the voice of Olaf in Frozen, Tiffany Haddish, Michael Rapaport, Mayim Bialik, Debra Messing, Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and producer Nancy Spielberg.