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Sarah Silverman: Why Are So Many Non-Jewish Actresses Cast in Jewish Roles?

Here at Kveller, we are always overjoyed to see TV hits like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel spotlight a strong, funny, beautiful, and impressive Jewish woman. And yet, as we all know, the show’s titular character is played by non-Jewish actress Rachel Brosnahan.

Recently, Jewish actress and comedian Sarah Silverman went public with this dichotomy, asking: When will a Jewish actress get to play a likable and overtly Jewish character?

During an appearance on the Howard Stern Show on Tuesday, Silverman muses on how her own experiences in Hollywood have involved stark typecasting. “Like, the parts I get to play, you’re either a sassy friend of the main character, who’s just in charge of exposition…” she says, “or you’re this c**ty girlfriend before the guy realizes what love really CAN be, or you’re that guy’s book agent, or scumbag executive.”

Oof.

“In other words,” Stern interjects, “being Jewy means that you only get Jewy parts. And then do you get upset when they give away jewy parts to someone who isn’t Jewish?”

“Actors are actors and they should play all different parts. 100 percent. Let me make that clear,” Silverman responds. “It’s the collective of the fact that if there is role that’s a Jewish woman, which is rare as it is —  but lately it’s been happening —  if that role is a Jewish woman, but she is courageous, or she deserves love, or has bravery, or is altruistic in any way, she’s played by a non-Jew.”

Silverman adds that if this phenomenon happened “one time, two times, 11 times” that she wouldn’t mind — but, unfortunately, she says, the casting of non-Jewish women as Jewish women characters has become a pattern. “They finally make RBG the movie and it’s a British woman, Felicity Jones.”

Silverman cites Mrs. Maisel —  “God bless her, she’s brilliant” — and, in her signature jarring fashion, she also points to Jojo Rabbit: The “Jew (hiding) in the wall,” as she calls it, was played by non-Jewish actress Thomasin McKenzie.

True, Silverman may be onto something. The recent series Mrs. America — which is based on the stories of real-life Jewish second-wave feminists like Betty Freidan, Bella Abzug, and Gloria Steinem — cast non-Jewish women in the main roles (these icons were played by Tracy Ullman, Margo Martindale, and Rose Byrne, respectively). Julianne Moore recently played Steinem, too, in the recent biopic The Glorias (2020), and in the quintessentially Jewish sitcom The Goldbergs, matriarch Beverly Goldberg is played by non-Jewish actress Wendy McLendon-Covey.

We love Silverman because she has long been outspoken about her Jewish identity. Back in  2018, we kvelled when she declared her Wreck-It Ralph character, Vanellope von Schweetz, a Disney Jewish princess. The actor and comedian is also a steady, sharp critic of antisemitism: In the wake of Nick Cannon’s antisemitic comments this summer, for example, she pushed back on the Twitter hashtag #JewishPrivilege with a story of her family’s experiences with antisemitism.

Still, when it comes to the lack of quality Jewish roles for Jewish actresses, Silverman understands its place in the larger conversations going on about on-screen representation in Hollywood. “Is it the biggest injustice in the world?” Silverman tells Stern, “No. But I’m noticing it.”

Frankly, this is something we’ve noticed, too. And while it’s unequivocally awesome that there are more and more roles out there featuring brave and impressive Jewish lead characters, isn’t it about time that similarly brave and  impressive Jewish women have the chance to play them?

Header image via The Howard Stern Show

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