While loved by many, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the Netflix sitcom created by Tina Fey, has received criticism since its first season aired in March of 2015. Many made the point that the show often relies on racist tropes and whitewashing, including the fact that a white woman (Jane Krakowski) plays a Native American character.
As of season two, which premiered in 2016, it was quite clear that on top of its racism, the show also had an anti-Semitism problem.
“Season two, episode eight, it really starts,” writes Jordi Rozenman for The Times of Israel.
“‘Kimmy Goes to a Hotel!’ brings us Jacqueline crying, ‘The Jews took my painting!’ What a phrasing. I waited eagerly for this Jacqueline faux-pas — this purposefully rude group label — to turn into something really funny, a chance for Jacqueline to learn something, maybe a reversal of the whole situation, something — but it turns out, actually… that’s it. What follows are a series of Jewish jokes and stereotypes so blatantly played that it’s just as bizarre as it is offensive.”
Rozenman breaks down more of these “baffling” instances — including Jacqueline hoping her new Jewish boyfriend “isn’t one of those Jews who does it through a sheet” and an unacknowledged reference to “Jew York.”
Still, the show has some redeeming qualities, like featuring a strong female lead. Despite all the cringe-worthy “jokes,” I was interested to see how the characters developed, and if they’d eventually change their ways.
The first part of the new season was just released on May 30th. With only six episodes, it was a quick binge.
While the overarching theme of the season — Kimmy’s realization that boys treat girls differently and are oftentimes abusive — was wonderful, episode six really got me down.
First, there’s the off-hand joke about Judaism being “white nonsense.”
Kimmy and Titus are sitting in a bench at the park when they see a group of people role playing a Quidditch match. Kimmy asks Titus what they’re doing.
“That white nonsense is either Judaism or Scrabble,” Titus responds.
I cringed. Are the writers of the show, including Fey, really that unaware of the fact Jews of color exist?
Another thing this joke brought to mind are the debates I find myself often having in non-Jewish social justice circles: Are Jews white? Some, like myself, definitely have light skin. However, white supremacists do not consider Jews white, and the Nazis certainly didn’t. It’s also been proven that Ashkenazi Jews like myself have our own unique strand of DNA that differs from typical, white Europeans. To me, our whiteness is conditional. It depends on the context of our surroundings. So to dismiss Judaism (not just the religion, but also the ethnicity and culture) as “white nonsense” seemed to me as a delegitimization of the specific oppression Jewish people have faced for centuries.
Of course, nothing in that “joke” was expanded upon. The plot of the episode quickly continued along.
In that same episode, there’s a subplot that involved a Jewish funeral. In typical fashion, the show got a lot wrong in that department. But that’s not really what offended me most.
The ending of the episode, and the end of part one of the new season, left me truly unsettled. You think the season is going to end on this happy-go-lucky note of friends creating and bonding together when the color changes to black and white and the frame zooms out. Suddenly, we’re viewing Kimmy, Titus, and Lillian through the lens of what seems like a sniper rifle but is likely a camera. And then… we hear the wielder of the gun/camera speaking in Hebrew.
“I have eyes on the target,” he says. “Moving to phase two.”
I’m guessing this has to do with the plotline of Kimmy’s kidnapper, Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, seeking his revenge against her while behind bars. This strongly implies that this Hebrew spy is a “bad guy.”
And I’m left to wonder — out of all the languages in the world for a villainous character to speak, why did they land on Hebrew? Especially with what’s been going on in the Israel/Palestine conflict lately, this left an awful taste in my mouth. Over the last month, I could barely go on social media without being met with anti-Semitic remarks and conspiracy theories.
I worry that ending the season on that note — a Bad Man speaking Hebrew, making him likely Jewish, plotting to do something evil to our heroine Kimmy — will just add fuel to the fire when it comes to upticks in anti-Semitism. This is definitely not the representation American Jews need right now.
The next half of season four will be released on Netflix in January. It will reportedly also be the last season of the series. Though I hope the writers will do better, at this point, I’m pretty doubtful.