Yes, Casting Non-Jewish Actors In Jewish Roles Is Cultural Appropriation. No, It's Not OK

Yes, Casting Non-Jewish Actors In Jewish Roles Is Cultural Appropriation. No, It's Not OK

Let us tell our own stories.
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I’ve been trying to figure out how to phrase this article for a long time, because it deals with a sensitive subject, and people tend to get touchy when you start telling them what they should and shouldn’t do, but I’ve decided the best thing is to come out and say it. I’m tired of non-Jewish actors playing Jewish characters. For now, let’s set aside the question of whether or not Jewish people are generic western-European white (we aren’t) and the question of whether or not Jewish people are still oppressed (we are). Instead, let’s move on to the reasons why non-Jewish people playing Jewish characters need to step off.

First of all, there aren’t a lot of Jewish characters floating around the theatre world. When picking up a new play to read, you can be fairly sure that all of your leads are Christian, and that if any character happens to be Jewish, they’ll be a caricature of a person and their religion will be a punch line (“Merchant of Venice,” I’m looking at you). Now, if you should find a play where that isn’t the case, look back at its performance history, and I’ll bet you anything that nine times out of 10, the Jewish characters were played by non-Jewish actors. The biggest examples of this — and the ones I’ve been frustrated about since day one — are the stage plays of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Both of these plays feature predominately Jewish main characters, and neither are the sort of stories where the main characters’ religions don’t matter. In both plays, the characters’ religions are the only thing that matters. Religion drives the plot. Religion creates conflict. Remove the characters’ Judaism from either play, and you no longer have a story. So why do directors the world over keep removing Judaism from the characters?

And make no mistake, that is what they’re doing. There’s a massive difference between simply playing a character and knowing that, had you been born in a different time period, you would be that character. Take “Fiddler on the Roof” as an example. The main plot deals with the increasing difficulties of being Jewish in the world of imperialist Russia, and it ends with the main characters being forcibly expelled from land they’ve lived on for generations. My ancestors lived in imperialist Russia during the same time period as the play is set, and like Tevye and his family, they fled the country or were forced out. When I read the play or watch it performed, I can imagine my family in the same situations, and any Jewish person can do the same (if you go back far enough, we’ve all been kicked out of somewhere). It’s an understanding that non-Jewish people don’t have, and it weakens the play as a whole to have the story performed by people who don’t get it.

The same goes for “The Diary of Anne Frank.” All of the main characters in the story are Jewish, and if one followed the story to its conclusion, they’d see that all but one of the characters is murdered for that very reason. The premise of the play wouldn’t exist without the characters’ Judaism, and there isn’t a Jewish person alive today who’s not intimately familiar with the horrors of the Holocaust. Again, there’s a difference between watching a play and thinking about how horrible it must have been, and watching a play and knowing that you and two-thirds of your family would have met the same fate.

There’s a connection to these stories that non-Jewish actors lack. There are complex personal feelings surrounding these characters and experiences that non-Jewish actors can’t possibly understand. I want to see these plays presented by Jewish actors. So this is a message for actors and directors. Stop erasing characters’ Judaism. Stop appropriating our stories by casting non-Jewish actors in roles written for and about us.

And for the love of all that’s holy, if you’re going to persist in casting goyim in Jewish roles, teach them how to pronounce Hebrew correctly.

Cover Image Credit: The Mirisch Production Company

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I Am A Female And I Am So Over Feminists

I believe that I am a strong woman, but I also believe in a strong man.
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Beliefs are beliefs, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. I'm all about girl power, but in today's world, it's getting shoved down our throats. Relax feminists, we're OK.

My inspiration actually came from a man (God forbid, a man has ideas these days). One afternoon my boyfriend was telling me about a discussion his class had regarding female sports and how TV stations air fewer female competitions than that of males. In a room where he and his other male classmate were completely outnumbered, he didn't have much say in the discussion.

Apparently, it was getting pretty heated in the room, and the women in the class were going on and on about how society is unfair to women in this aspect and that respect for the female population is shrinking relative to the male population.

If we're being frank here, it's a load of bull.

SEE ALSO: To The Women Who Hate Feminism

First of all, this is the 21st century. Women have never been more respected. Women have more rights in the United States than ever before. As far as sports go, TV stations are going to air the sports that get the most ratings. On a realistic level, how many women are turning on Sports Center in the middle of the day? Not enough for TV stations to make money. It's a business, not a boycott against female athletics.

Whatever happened to chivalry? Why is it so “old fashioned" to allow a man to do the dirty work or pay for meals? Feminists claim that this is a sign of disrespect, yet when a man offers to pick up the check or help fix a flat tire (aka being a gentleman), they become offended. It seems like a bit of a double standard to me. There is a distinct divide between both the mental and physical makeup of a male and female body. There is a reason for this. We are not equals. The male is made of more muscle mass, and the woman has a more efficient brain (I mean, I think that's pretty freaking awesome).

The male body is meant to endure more physical while the female is more delicate. So, quite frankly, at a certain point in life, there need to be restrictions on integrating the two. For example, during that same class discussion that I mentioned before, one of the young ladies in the room complained about how the NFL doesn't have female athletes. I mean, really? Can you imagine being tackled by a 220-pound linebacker? Of course not. Our bodies are different. It's not “inequality," it's just science.

And while I can understand the concern in regard to money and women making statistically less than men do, let's consider some historical facts. If we think about it, women branching out into the workforce is still relatively new in terms of history. Up until about the '80s or so, many women didn't work as much as they do now (no disrespect to the women that did work to provide for themselves and their families — you go ladies!). We are still climbing the charts in 2016.

Though there is still considered to be a glass ceiling for the working female, it's being shattered by the perseverance and strong mentality of women everywhere. So, let's stop blaming men and society for how we continue to “struggle" and praise the female gender for working hard to make a mark in today's workforce. We're doing a kick-ass job, let's stop the complaining.

I consider myself to be a very strong and independent female. But that doesn't mean that I feel the need to put down the opposite gender for every problem I endure. Not everything is a man's fault. Let's be realistic ladies, just as much as they are boneheads from time to time, we have the tendency to be a real pain in the tush.

It's a lot of give and take. We don't have to pretend we don't need our men every once in a while. It's OK to be vulnerable. Men and women are meant to complement one another—not to be equal or to over-power. The genders are meant to balance each other out. There's nothing wrong with it.

I am all for being a proud woman and having confidence in what I say and do. I believe in myself as a powerful female and human being. However, I don't believe that being a female entitles me to put down men and claim to be the “dominant" gender. There is no “dominant" gender. There's just men and women. Women and men. We coincide with each other, that's that. Time to embrace it.

Cover Image Credit: chrisjohnbeckett / Flickr

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For The Displaced Cultural Sectors Under Attack

Pockets of cultural diversity need more than just tourism—they need preservation to remain pivotal regions exemplary of a country of immigrants.

arjunt
arjunt
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If I was blindfolded, thrown into a car, and brought to a certain street in Chicago, I could tell you just from the smells and sounds that I was at Devon Avenue. The combination of the distinct smell of Indian spices and sound of Indians speaking one of their hundreds of languages is most prominent along Devon (pronounced Day-vawn by the parents). While many come here to buy Indian clothes for cultural events, there is much more afoot than a mere exchange of currency for goods.

For as much as Devon is reminiscent of a bazaar with several restaurants, shops, and salons, it's also a multi-ethnic cultural hub where one finds Jewish, Pakistani, Indian, and several other communities coexisting together along one particular street. Much like any metropolitan area's Chinatown, Devon Avenue gives you a bite-sized experience of a foreign country. The rich cuisine, fine cloth materials, and only slightly unorganized traffic and parking are qualities that, though unsettling for many Americans, make an oftentimes discomforting and unfamiliar nation seem to immigrants just a little more like home.

The cultural nostalgia continues within the shops. One particular shop displays mannequins in their windows, each one adorned with jewel-embellished attire that resembles that of a king. When I visited the shop with the family to get wedding clothes, the men and women managing the store were initially busy attending to other customers, but when we stopped to look at their male attire, two saleswomen came over to woo us into buying the lavish products. They spoke in Hindi, a language I've only heard while visiting India or watching Bollywood films with the family. As they spoke to me, I looked them in the eyes and nod, but I secretly had no clue what they're saying.

It's not just the spoken language that sent me back to the Motherland; the way they spoke and the aggressiveness of their sales pitch was just as noteworthy. My mom mentioned several times how we were just there to look and not interested in buying anything, and each time, the women shut down her hesitancy and assured her that we'd end up back here after looking at every other shop. My parents asked my brother and me what we thought in Gujarati, a specific province's language, but one saleswoman somehow interjected in the same language. As we bargained to whittle their outlandish prices down, she asked us our names and complimented us based on their mythological meaning. Everyone always says they want personalized service, yet it didn't seem possible to have service that was too personal—that is, until now. Despite the invasive sales work, their insistence and speed with which they responded to us is straight out of all the sari shops I saw in India. The slice of welcoming culture made the rude sales bearable.

Well beyond our departure, the shopping experience remained on my mind as a heartwarming account of encountering a depth culture in the most unlikely of places. Visiting cultural pockets like Devon within a larger metropolitan area is a mini excursion into that is foreign to some, but welcoming to everyone who comes while respecting the residents and their culture.

Many of these cultural pockets are unfortunately facing grave issues that challenge their cultural significance. Miles south from Devon is Pilsen, a heavily Latino neighborhood in Chicago with a rich cultural background that is facing unprecedented gentrification. A University of Illinois-Chicago professor concluded that from 2000 to 2016, new housing projects and spikes in property expenses contributed to over 10,000 Latino residents moving out of the region as more wealthy white residents filled in. Local restaurants are declining as more chain businesses are taking over. Signs warn residents to know their rights should they face threats from ICE agents or raids. Beautiful wall graffiti acts as a mirror image of anti-gentrification messages made in response to the process of cultural disintegration.

The threat of gentrification is sadly not unique to Pilsen, as many of these sectors face an incoming crisis of culture. As a nation, these pockets of minority populations and cultures are not just to be respected but appreciated for bringing elements of their culture to a completely different country and enhancing its diversity. If everyone truly loves going to their Chinatown or Kris Kringle Markets, then we have to work to preserve regions like these, lest they be made more sparse than they already are.

arjunt
arjunt

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