I’m making a Hanukkah rom-com, and I want you to see it.
Another Hanukkah is here, and with it, another (single) attempt by Hallmark to make a Hanukkah rom-com. While Christmas movies are playing 24/7 on every network and streaming service, another year is slipping by without my Hanukkah movie dream coming true. This fall, with the rampant public displays of antisemitism, I’ve been thinking more than ever before about Jewish representation in the entertainment industry and how we are portrayed onscreen. If you ask some, they’d say Jews run the media. But if the movie business is “monopolized” by Jews, then explain this to me: Why don’t we have more Hanukkah movies!?
I can’t speak for all of Hollywood (I don’t even live there; I live in Brooklyn and make films in New York), but I want to share my experience. I’m Jewish and I work in film. I’m not in the business because I’m Jewish… really, it hasn’t opened any doors, and I’ve never considered it a unique trait. Most of my coworkers don’t know how I identify religiously, and it doesn’t matter to get my job done. But every year during the holiday season as Hallmark, Lifetime, Netflix and every other studio release another 100+ new Christmas movies, the repeatedly-missed opportunity to make Jewish holiday films baffles me. Are we not deserving of the same love stories and holiday cheer that Christmas elves and tinseled trees get each year? With the abundance of Christmas movies successfully being released, a Hanukkah film feels like a no-brainer. There is an audience for our films too! I’m starting to take the lack of representation personally, and I’m determined to do something about it.
Every year, I become more hopeful that this is a problem I can help solve and that studios will recognize the potential audience and financial benefits.
While I give Hallmark credit for producing five Hanukkah-adjacent holiday films between 2018 and 2021, that’s still only 1.25 films a year compared to the 40 Christmas movies they are putting out in 2022 alone (we are getting one more Hanukkah movie this year, “Hanukkah on Rye”!). However, their Hanukkah movies are really just Christmas movies with superficial Jewish characters, written to educate middle America about cultural Jewish tropes: We all gather around the table, singing Hebrew songs and spinning dreidels and are bankers and eat latkes and and and… Sigh.
Honestly, even with their massive amount of holiday content and their attempts to hire Jewish writers and performers, Hallmark may not be the best banner for producing a film about Jews and Hanukkah. Maybe other studios can help shoulder the burden? I’m looking at you Netflix, Amazon, HBOMax… I want to see a holiday film about Hanukkah that doesn’t have to explain itself or make excuses for its Jewish representation.
Recently, there have been more independent films — like “Shiva Baby” and “As They Made Us” — about the Jewish experience, as well as great, nuanced Jewish characters in films and television shows like “Uncut Gems,” “Transparent,” “The Patient” and “Schitt’s Creek.” But where are the sweet holiday rom-coms filled with equal amounts of gelt and guilt? We fall in love, too!
Here I am, a working (Jewish) filmmaker, and I can’t gather the resources, funds, or support to produce a Jewish film. Why is this so hard? Convincing studios (which are supposedly run by Hanukkah-celebrating Jews) that they should finance my Hanukkah movie has been more challenging than expected. Trying to take matters into my own hands, I hired a Jewish writer/director to help me flesh out a personal Hanukkah story in 2019. She wrote an amazing and charming screenplay and, with some industry help, we sent it to a few studio executives. An executive at the first studio loved it — they’re a member of the tribe and they want to see a film like this out there — but that studio is only making star-driven material, so they had to pass. (Are there no Jewish actors out there who would want to make a Hanukkah rom-com?) We sent the script to an exec at another studio. They, too, really liked it for their holiday division — but a week later they left that studio, and we were lost in the shuffle as they navigated a new job elsewhere.
Meanwhile, I went looking for a Jewish actor, but without funding I couldn’t hire a casting director, so I went directly to some agents. One of the first agents responded with “They’re doing a Christmas movie, so we’ll have to pass.” The Jewish star was doing a Christmas movie!! Sure, historically, that happens a lot — and Christians play Jews all the time, too — but come on! Then the script went to a handful of independent producers who all loved the story but felt that without a studio, we wouldn’t get our audience — no one is watching a Hanukkah rom-com at Sundance (though maybe they should). Finally, a third studio got us really excited — we believed! But then that third studio was sold to Conglomerate X and placed all their future projects on hold to reset in the new year… Doesn’t mean the end, but definitely not lighting the menorah yet.
This is not a unique story. Getting a movie — any movie — made is nothing short of a miracle. And I’m not giving up. I don’t want to make a Hanukkah movie featuring a Christmas tree with Star of David ornaments to fit some holiday formula. I want to make a “While You Were Sleeping” Hanukkah movie, or “The Family Stone” Hanukkah movie, or “The Happiest Season” Hanukkah movie. A Hanukkah movie where a single girl falls in love over coffee, some burnt latkes and eight twinkling nights. I know I’m not the only one hoping for a Hanukkah movie beyond Hallmark’s offerings. Maybe my vision isn’t the best or brightest, but I’m out here trying to make it.
I’m just a girl asking the world for a Hanukkah miracle so I can finally curl up on one of my eight holiday nights to laugh, cry and kvetch about Jews like me falling in love under snowy Hanukkah menorah lights.