Alleged comedian and actress Sarah Silverman has a complaint to make: what’s with all of the actors doing acting? Don’t they know that the only part you’re allowed to play is yourself?
On her podcast, Silverman 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. . . . One could argue, for instance, that a Gentile playing Joan Rivers correctly would be doing what is actually called ‘Jewface.’ ”
One could argue that, but only if one had the I.Q. of the stuff that grows on your kitchen sponge.
Silverman is the kind of person who argues for inclusiveness by telling us all about who should be excluded from what. She’s the Clancy Wiggum of the cultural-appropriation police. In 2007, on her Comedy Central show, she actually wore blackface, proving that she was guilty of culturally appropriating the humor of 1936. In 2016 she appeared as Adolf Hitler on an episode of “Conan.” Only Aryans get to do that, dummkopf!
Silverman says “Jewface” is “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.” She added, “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?”
“Ours”? As is, Jewish roles belong exclusively to Jews? Are Jews supposed to turn down roles as non-Jews? Jews are a small minority. They’d have to turn down the vast majority of parts if they only did roles that are “ours.” Or does this rule somehow work only one way? Christianity is a culture. Should only Christian actors be cast in Christian roles? Pretending to be someone you aren’t isn’t a cultural “breach.” It’s just . . . acting.
Coming up at the movies, we’ll see England’s Benedict Cumberbatch playing a rough-riding 1925 Montana cowboy in “The Power of the Dog,” Denzel Washington playing a Scottish usurper in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” and Matt Damon playing a 14th century Frenchman in “The Last Duel.” Silverman is miffed that Rachel Brosnahan (Anglo-Irish) is playing a Jew (inspired by Rivers’s early career) on “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” but here’s the thing: Rachel Brosnahan is really good at playing the part, which is why Amy-Sherman Palladino, the show’s creator (who is half Jewish) picked her. When it comes to putting on a good show, talent talks, identity politics walks.
The many Jews working in TV and movie production and as studio heads understand that, which is why they don’t think of roles in terms of what is “ours.” Does Silverman have a problem with the inclusive casting decisions made by Jews?
One of the most memorable Italian-Americans, Sonny Corleone, was played by Jewish James Caan, and another, Loretta Castorini in “Moonstruck,” was played by Cher, an Armenian-Cherokee. Israel-born Jewish actress Natalie Portman played Jackie Kennedy. Harvey Keitel is Jewish but he has played mobsters so many times you probably assumed he was Italian by now. If we had ethnically correct casting, we would have been deprived of the joy of watching Meryl Streep making Sophie’s choice, Dustin Hoffman playing the California WASP getting seduced by Mrs. Robinson and Al Pacino inviting us to say hello to his leetle fren’.
“Stick to your own kind” is ill-advised guidance from “West Side Story,” not the secret to making good art.
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