Enough, already! Is it time to stop the ‘Jewface’ casting?

The American star was speaking after Kathryn Hahn was reported to have been cast as Joan Rivers in The Comeback Girl


Sarah Silverman arrives for the 60th Grammy Awards on January 28, 2018, in New York. / AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISS (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s the debate that’s growing ever more heated: should non-Jewish actors play Jewish parts?

Now outspoken comedian Sarah Silverman has waded in to decry what she has labelled “Jewface”.

The American star was speaking after Kathryn Hahn was reported to have been cast as Joan Rivers in The Comeback Girl, an upcoming drama based on the life of the Jewish comedy icon.

Ms Hahn is not Jewish, but did play a rabbi in the comedy drama series Transparent and is married to Jewish actor Ethan Sandler.

“One could argue, for instance, that a gentile playing Joan Rivers correctly would be doing what is actually called ‘Jewface,’” Ms Silverman said on her podcast last week.

Though the comedian said she had “zero problems” with Ms Hahn’s involvement in the project and stressed she was a “brilliant” actress, she pointed to an apparent double standard, with Jewish characters often portrayed by non-Jews despite a growing focus on representation in the industry.

“The pattern in film is just undeniable, and the pattern is if the Jewish female character is courageous or deserves love, she is never played by a Jew. Ever!” she said.

She pointed to a number of films and TV shows from recent years which have featured non-Jewish actresses in Jewish parts, including the 2018 courtroom drama On The Basis Of Sex starring Felicity Jones as the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ms Silverman also cited The Marvellous Mrs Maisel featuring Rachel Brosnahan as a Jewish comedian and the 2017 film Disobedience with Rachel McAdams as Esti Kuperman, a Charedi woman who renews her same-sex relationship with her childhood best friend, Ronit Krushka, who is played by British Jewish star Rachel Weisz.

The issue of Jewish representation has sparked debate in recent years, with actresses Maureen Lipman and Miriam Margolyes joining a group of artists in 2019 in signing a letter condemning a musical for casting non-Jews to play Jews.

Comedian David Baddiel waded into the debate last year as he discussed the cast of BBC One’s series Ridley Road, which premiered last Sunday.

The thriller, which chronicles the community’s post-war fight against fascism, features a number of non-Jewish actors in Jewish roles, including Eddie Marsan as the leader of a Jewish anti-fascist group.

While Mr Baddiel insisted at the time he was “fine” with the casting decisions, he suggested that “it wouldn’t be fine for the BBC to cast like this with any other minority”.

The show does feature Jewish actresses Tracy-Ann Oberman and Samantha Spiro. The script is by Jewish writer and performer Sarah Solemani.

Actress Agnes O’Casey has some Jewish ancestry and plays the central character, Vivien Epstein, a Jewish hairdresser who turns anti-fascist campaigner.

Ms O’Casey acknowledged concerns during a recent interview with the Irish Times, saying she felt discussion with the makers of the show about her Jewish roots “had a part in my being cast.”

She said: “I learned so much in this role, which was part of why it was so painful to realise that my casting might cause harm.”

Ridley Road producer Nicola Shindler responded to criticism over casting in an interview with the JC last week, saying: “We went with the actors who we felt did the strongest auditions and were perfect for the performance.

“Aggie [O’Casey], our central character does have a Jewish heritage — a grandparent — and we talked about that a lot. I know it is an issue, and it is something that is being discussed, but Sarah and I are both Jewish and for us it was more important to make sure everything felt very accurate. Going forward, I think I’ll be more aware of it. You learn all the time, don’t you?”

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