Back to IndieWire

Sarah Silverman Calls Out Hollywood’s ‘Jewface’ Problem: ‘Representation F**king Matters’

Silverman defines "Jewface" as "when a non-Jew portrays a Jew with the Jewishness front and center."

Sarah Silverman arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Sarah Silverman

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

News arrived September 21 that Kathryn Hahn is set to play Joan Rivers in an upcoming Showtime limited series. While fans rejoiced for the “WandaVision” Emmy nominee on social media, Sarah Silverman said on the most recent episode of her self-titled podcast (via Page Six) that Hahn’s casting is only the latest example of Hollywood’s “Jewface” problem. Silverman is referring to the practice of casting non-Jews in Jewish roles.

“There’s this long tradition of non-Jews playing Jews, and not just playing people who happen to be Jewish but people whose Jewishness is their whole being,” Silverman said. “One could argue, for instance, that a Gentile [a non-Jew] playing Joan Rivers correctly would be doing what is actually called ‘Jewface.’”

Silverman continued, “It’s defined as when a non-Jew portrays a Jew with the Jewishness front and center, often with makeup or changing of features, big fake nose, all the New York-y or Yiddish-y inflection. And in a time when the importance of representation is seen as so essential and so front and center, why does ours constantly get breached even today in the thick of it?”

Silverman’s other examples of “Jewface” in Hollywood include Felicity Jones playing Ruth Bader Ginsburg (“On the Basis of Sex”), Rachel Brosnahan playing Miriam Maisel (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Margo Martindale playing Bella Abzug (“Mrs. America”), and Tracey Ullman playing Betty Friedan (“Mrs. America”). The comedian stressed that none of these actors are “doing anything wrong” by playing Jewish characters, but such recurring casting is “fucked up.”

“Right now, representation fucking matters,” Silverman added. “It has to also finally matter for Jews as well. Especially Jewish women.”

Silverman also noted that when a Jewish female character is “courageous or deserves love, she is never played by a Jew.” The comedian pointed to anti-Semitic tropes such as “Jews run Hollywood” as “rendering people very righteously unsympathetic toward Jews.”

Silverman most recently appeared in a small supporting role in Warner Bros.’ “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” which opened in theaters and HBO Max this summer. She’ll next appear opposite Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson in the romantic-comedy “Marry Me.” Listen to Silverman’s full podcast episode on “Jewface” here.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Film and tagged ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox