Non-Jews Being Cast as Jewish Characters is Not That Big of a Deal

When Ruby Rose was cast as Jewish lesbian Batwoman (what a cool phrase) in the upcoming CW series, people hoping for a Jewish lesbian actress proceeded to lose their minds. Well, at least tweet their dismay so overwhelmingly that Rose threw in the towel with Twitter altogether.

Note: Ruby Rose, though not Jewish, did come out as a lesbian when she was 12.

This should be expected, given Jewish women’s rage when Felicity Jones was cast as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the upcoming film On The Basis of Sex.

“Felicity jones playing ruth bader ginsburg in her new biopic is disrespectful at *best*. erasing jewish, ashkenazi traits and giving the role to a european woman is a slap in the face,” wrote one user. “White Anglo Felicity Jones playing Brooklyn Russian Jew #RuthBaderGinsburg in bio pic. Because there are no short Jewish actresses who could be cast? Appropriation outrage is coming, right? #whitewashing” another railed.

However, this new “controversy” around non-Jewish actresses playing Ashkenazi characters spurred up on July 17, just four days after Scarlett Johansson stepped down from playing trans man Dante Tex Gill in the film Rub & Tug. The LGBTQ community called on Scarlet to not be another cisgender actor playing a trans character, aka practicing “transface.” Moments later, Jewish viewers took issue with non-Jewish actresses playing them on screen seemingly for the first time.

Why are they only taking issue with this now? Are Jews really upset about Jones and Rose, or are they appropriating a serious problem that trans actors face to score points in a game of oppression Olympics?

Using the same rhetoric around Jewish representation makes no sense, because Hollywood casting cis actors to play trans is not comparable to non-Jews playing Jewish characters. According to GLAAD, there are only three trans characters on broadcast TV, six on cable, and seven on streaming services. That’s practically less than the number of Jewish characters on a single episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. In 2018, there were no trans characters in any major studio release.

The roles for trans people are few and far between. Successful trans actors are even rarer. For example, Orange Is The New Black’s Laverne Cox may have been on the cover of Time, but she’s yet to land a leading role.

Trans actress Trace Lysette (you may have seen her on Transparent) put it best when she wrote, “I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that’s not the case.”

Fun fact: Scarlett, who is Jewish, was named the highest grossing actress of the year by Forbes. She’s not worried about getting on the cast list; she’s at the top of the A-List.

Most trans actors are only asked to audition to play transgender people (and have even been told they don’t seem trans enough so casting directors can hire a cis person). Not only has Scarlett Johansson had the opportunity to play Jewish characters, but she’s even played iconic Catholic ones like Mary Boleyn. Alongside her? Natalie Portman, who was cast as Anne Boleyn. Later, she would earn an Oscar nomination for playing the only Catholic first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. Even Rachel Weisz has played a number of meaningful Jewish roles, such as an ex-Orthodox lesbian in Disobedience and Deborah E. Lipstadt, a woman who fought for the memory of the Holocaust, in Denial. She’s also starred in Christmas movies.

When it comes down to it, Jewish actresses are not pigeonholed by their ethnicity. So why is our community using the same rhetoric trans folk when it comes to representation?

Yes, there always can be better representation of marginalized people; I’m particularly over Hollywood putting Jewish people into a Holocaust-drama niche. Also, it’s nice to see Ashkenazi actresses who resemble us in our full curly-haired glory. But have you noticed that Jenny Slate, Idina Menzel, and Ilana Glazer are killing it?

These are leading ladies, not trans gals fighting for a recurring role. Two of them are even writers who have been heard in Hollywood, not just seen.

Meanwhile, most stories about transgender people are told by cisgender writers and directors: Millionaire Buyers Club, Boys Don’t Cry, and The Danish Girl all scored Oscar nominations for depicting the trans experience, yet none had a trans actor, writer, or director in the production. In contrast, there are many Jewish filmmakers who have told their own stories. Steven Spielberg won an Oscar for Schindler’s List. Natalie Portman wrote, directed, and starred in A Tale of Love and Darkness. Larry David is still making millions off Seinfeld.

Co-opting the narrative around trans representation and making it about our community is not only selfish, it’s disrespectful. As a community who knows social justice as well as a bagel all the way, we’re better than that.

Plus, there are so many more battlefields are voices are more needed in. There are white supremacists chanting with tiki torches. A Neo-nazi is on trial for murdering Jewish teenager Blase Bernstein. Even the Women’s March organizers still haven’t apologized for hanging out with anti-Semitic hate groups.

There’s plenty of issues to kvetch about, but a problem with representation akin to transface isn’t one of them.

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