Can we talk? Sarah Silverman raised the complex question about the trend of non-Jewish actors playing people whose Jewishness is a big part of their public persona. Her comments were prompted by an upcoming film about fellow stand-up Joan Rivers.
She said on The Sarah Silverman Podcast:
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,” […] 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.
There are plenty of other examples, though. Silverman listed Rachel Brosnahan starring on Mrs. Maisel, Tracey Ullman playing Betty Friedan, Felicity Jones playing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Margo Martindale playing Bella Abzug.
Tony Shalloub, the Monk star who plays Mrs. Maisel’s father and is a Maronite Christian, said in response:
I always feel that we’re actors. We were trained to — at least I was — to not play myself, to play characters and so it’s troubling to me that they’re limiting actors.
I just don’t know. If we start to go down that road, I don’t know where it ends. Are people who are members of the Mafia, are they going to be upset that people who haven’t actually committed those types of crimes are playing those roles? When you extrapolate it all the way out the way lies complete chaos.
Rivers is scheduled to be played by Kathryn Hahn, who was raised Catholic.
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