Rachel Weisz is the Most Underrated Jewish Icon We Have

I want Rachel Weisz to step on me, and I’m not the only one.

If you are a queer woman who is not living under a goddamn rock, you may have recognized Weisz’s recent surge into the queer film community this past year, playing two unapologetic, sexually-liberated queer women. While this does not necessarily make her a hero (it does), it has garnered her many titles on the internet, including but not limited to: “the unofficial straight LGBTQ ambassador;” “the straight ally the LGBT+ community deserves;” “crowned queen of lesbian cinema;” “power bitch;” and my personal favourite (yes, spelling intentional), “top of the lesbian food chain.”

Weisz’s performance in those two movies — Disobedience released in the US last spring, and The Favourite, released last fall — especially caught the attention of many in the queer film community, but I’m here to tell you, as a queer Jewish woman, she deserves the same love from the Jewish community, too. I’d go so far as to say she’s the most underrated Jewish icon we have.

“You could bring her home,” said my mother upon learning Weisz is Jewish. Thanks, mom! Unfortunately for me, though, she’s already taken: Weisz, who turns 49 on March 7, co-parents a son with her former partner, director Darren Aronofsky (also Jewish), and has a baby girl with husband Daniel Craig, born earlier this year.

The first of her queer films released this past year, Disobedience, revolves around an illicit lesbian affair in a London Orthodox Jewish community. Weisz herself was never an Orthodox Jew; however, her father was raised as such. Both her mother and father fled from Hungry and Austria respectively to the United Kingdom in order to escape the Nazis in 1938, right before the outbreak of World War II. Weisz’s maternal grandfather had been a secretary of the World Union of Jewish Students.

Weisz is very private about her personal life, and this extends to explanations about her religion. In a 2017 interview with the Jewish Chronicle, Weisz shares little about her “culturally Jewish” upbringing. She does note, however, that she often felt her parents were different than those of her friends, as hers were refugees with starkly different experiences.

Weisz’s filmography so far only includes two Jewish characters. In Denial she portrays Deborah Lipstadt, the American Holocaust historian known for her writings and advocacy on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Denial depicts the period of time she was sued by Holocaust denier David Irving for libel.

And then of course she played Ronit in Disobedience. Disobedience is a significant movie in Weisz’s extensive filmography for several reasons. It is only the second time she has portrayed a queer character in her career, the first being Summer Hartley in Definitely, Maybe (undoubtedly my Rachel Weisz sexual awakening!). It’s also a deeply Jewish film, one that does a surprisingly good job at getting Jewish traditions, phrases, and rituals right. But most impressively, Weisz produced the film, an example of the more and more women in Hollywood taking professional agency into their own hands.

Weisz was very vocal about seeking scripts with at least two great parts for women and stumbled upon Naomi Alderman’s Disobedience after reading “a lot of lesbian literature.” Weisz optioned the book, hired director Sebastiàn Lelio, and produced the film from beginning to end with her new production company, LC6. It is clear that this film was Weisz’s passion project, and that she actively wants to tell more stories about women as the subject, rather than the object of male desire.

Weisz has a level of intellect that is intimidating — she received a second-class honors degree in English from Trinity Hall at Cambridge University. Just listening to her talk sounds like what I would imagine a delicate hummingbird blowing soft melodic harmonies into your ear; the British accent just does that for me, okay? And, she knows how to talk unabashedly and confidently about her work as a straight woman in queer roles. She pushes past the tiresome shock value of lesbianism and focuses more on the nuance and authentic depictions of her characters.

As we have just wrapped up acting award season with the Academy Awards, it is hard not to feel a tinge of disappointment. While The Favourite won seven BAFTA awards (Weisz won her first for Best Supporting Actress) and received a record 10 nominations at the Oscars, including one for Weisz as Best Supporting Actress (tying Roma for the most nominations this year and Cabaret for the most nominations of a queer centric movie ever), the film only took home one statue at the Oscars, for Best Actress Oliva Colman (which, don’t get me wrong, she totally deserved).

Meanwhile, male centered films rife with controversy like Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book took home some of the biggest awards of the night (the latter of which bizarrely won Best Picture). Frankly I have grown tired of the slow growth of queer female acceptance in mainstream pop culture. With The Favourite losing best original screenplay (written by another Jew, Deborah Davis) to Green Book, one can’t help but imagine what would happen if the academy, and the movies we see in general, had more of a diverse collection of people at the helm.

You might say these frivolous awards don’t matter, but movies do, and Weisz’s commitment to female centric films shows this. Female and queer representation is so incredibly important. Movies posit forums for discussion and understanding, something we need a lot more of these days. While being a white queer Jewish woman is obviously not that radical these days, seeing authentic queer and/or Jewish stories makes the intersections of my identity feel validated. We need more of these stories that stretch the gender binary and the unequivocal whiteness of Hollywood cinema so that marginalized folks and at-risk youth can feel the same way.

In the end, while Weisz’s beauty is evident with her luscious brown hair, cheekbones I would personally like to be cut by, and fingers that I would let rearrange my insides, I hesitate to call her a lesbian icon as Weisz is, by all public accounts, heterosexual. It would be reductive to claim her to such a status when actual LGBTQIA+ actresses like Lena Waithe, Laverne Cox, and Sara Ramirez have done so much work for their communities.

But what I can call her, without hesitation, is a Jewish icon, and I welcome more people in our community to claim her as such.

Even Weisz admits she hasn’t peaked yet, so here’s hoping for more queer and Jewish Rachel Weisz content in the near future, pretty pretty please.

Belle Riley Thompson

Belle Riley Thompson is a second year undergraduate student studying journalism and humanities at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She enjoys writing, going to spin class, and kvetching about anything pop culture related.

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