Hollywood needs to wake up realize when Jews are portrayed as racist, dysfunctional and hate-filled people, there is a rise in antisemitic attacks in Boro Park and Monsey.
In the last few years, Hollywood has produced quite a few TV shows and films that portray traditional Jews as racist, misogynistic and backward people.
Last year, in NBC’s Nurses, a hassid expresses contempt toward “goyim,” the Yiddish word for non-Jews, as well as Arabs and women. The Netflix reality show My Unorthodox Life promotes the false idea that religious women have no freedom and solely serve as baby-making machines. In Unorthodox, another Netflix miniseries, the protagonist escapes sickening abuse and dysfunction in her hassidic community.
These are only a few of the films and shows that paint skewed representations of the Orthodox community.
Jew in the City is a nonprofit organization that works to “change negative perceptions of religious Jews and make engaging and meaningful Orthodox Judaism known and accessible.” One of its missions is to hold traditional media accountable for accurate reporting and the creation of positive Orthodox content.
Jew in the City’s founder, Allison Josephs, tweeted earlier this month: “Spoke to a secular Jewish TV exec from a very popular show who is sick of the constant negative portrayals of Orthodox Jews and wants to do something about it & wants our help. It is almost 15 years of speaking about this issue and thankfully people are finally listening!!”
In a later tweet, Josephs revealed that top academics who study the impact of minority depictions in the media, confirmed that there never was a study on Orthodox Jewish representation. They shared that they never even thought of it until she brought it up.
It’s wonderful that a TV executive had enough of the negative films about religious Jews. It’s fantastic that the academics are listening. But, if it’s taken this long, it’s obvious that Hollywood doesn’t understand the seriousness of the problem.
The movie industry wields tremendous power with the tales it creates. A film has the power to not only entertain but to establish narratives, form culture, and shape society.
Hitler used the well-known Shakespeare play Merchant of Venice as a propaganda tool to promote Jew-hatred. The play is full of disgusting antisemitic language and portrays the Jew, Shylock, as a thief. Between 1933 and 1939, there were more than 50 productions performed in Germany. It was a favorite of the Nazis.
A viewer at one of these performances described Shylock’s appearance on stage as, “with a crash and a weird train of shadows, something revoltingly alien and startlingly repulsive crawled across the stage.” The commenter likely never even met a Jew. But the play either formed his opinion or validated his existing perception that the Jews were evil and disgusting. While the show didn’t cause the Holocaust, it played an important role.
Today, the constant negative depictions of Orthodox Jews in the media embolden the haters and drive antisemitic attacks. When Jews are portrayed as racist, dysfunctional and hate-filled people, a rise in antisemitic attacks in Boro Park and Monsey is not shocking.
Jews accounted for nearly 60% of all religion-based hate crimes in the US in 2020. The victims of these attacks are often Orthodox Jews who are more visibly Jewish than secular Jews. These are scary statistics considering Orthodox Jews are only 0.2% of the US population. Positive and accurate depictions of Orthodox Jews aren’t something that would be nice to have. They are crucial for the safety of Orthodox Jews.
It will take a lot more than positive films and TV shows to stop antisemitism. But, as the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Storytellers and filmmakers must do their part. When Hollywood shares accurate stories about Orthodox Jews, people’s perceptions will change. And as a result, Orthodox Jews will be safer.
The writer is the digital director for United with Israel. As a dynamic and perceptive digital marketer, she creates and implements successful strategies to promote the truth about Israel and fight antisemitism.