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‘Jewface’: Sarah Silverman pans casting of non-Jews as Jews

The actress and comedian asks why, ‘when the importance of representation is seen as so essential… does ours constantly get breached?’

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Sarah Silverman participates in a panel during the Hulu Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton on Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)
Sarah Silverman participates in a panel during the Hulu Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton on Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

Actress and comedian Sarah Silverman has denounced the practice of non-Jews being cast as Jewish characters in TV and films, and said it should be referred to as “Jewface.”

In comments on her podcast, released last week, Silverman pointed to the recent casting of non-Jewish actress Kathryn Hahn as the late Jewish comedian Joan Rivers in an upcoming miniseries.

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

Jewface, a play on the racist practice of donning blackface, said Silverman, “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 and Yiddish-y inflection.” Silverman added that today, 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?”

Silverman noted that she didn’t think Hahn had done anything wrong, and believed she would do well in the role of Rivers. “I think acting is acting but, when it’s never, or always, I think it’s something to look at and maybe point to,” she said.

“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!” insisted Silverman.

The comedian pointed to a series of Jewish women portrayed by non-Jewish actresses, including Rachel Brosnahan in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and Felicity Jones as the late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex.”

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