Jews control the media. Jews own Hollywood. Jews run the show. These are common statements made about the disproportionate number of Jews with prominent and active roles in the Hollywood movie-making machine. While often times these comments are twinged with underlying anti-Semitic opinions, there is no doubt that Jews enjoy a freedom and opportunity in the entertainment industry that other minorities have not had access too. The reason? Whiteness.
This is not to say that Jews have not faced persecution, even in the United States, nor to minimize the struggles that Jews have had to overcome in order to succeed within the industry as they have. Yet, it is important, particularly in the face of the #OscarsSoWhite movement, for Jews to understand the privileges they have been granted purely because their minority status does not have to be broadcast, does not have to be obvious. In the early days of Hollywood, how many Jews changed their names to sound less Jewish, how many Jews simply didn’t talk about their religious background at all? Even today, many of the Jews in Hollywood are of the Jew-ish variety, Jewish only in distant heritage rather than active religion or culture. We, as Jews, have had the ability to hide our otherness in a way that other minorities have not, giving us the opportunity and access that many of our fellow minorities have been kept from. So what does this mean?
In his article “The Oscars Are Too White -- and that’s a Jewish Problem” author Jay Michaelson posits that it is time for Jews to use their status and their “power” within the industry to fuel the necessary changes. He proposes that the “celebrity rabbis [urge] Jewish film machers to take the initiative in diversifying the industry as a whole” and insights the “Spielbergs and Geffens of L.A. [to endow] scholarships for minority students working in film, [create] internship opportunities at their own shops, and [make] proactive efforts to reach out to those from disadvantaged communities.” For Michaelson, the Jews hold a rare minority position to grant these marginalized groups a voice and provide them with the access necessary to make their own mark on the entertainment industry. And he’s right.
Jews understand all too well the importance of belonging, of being able to share your stories, your perspective, and your culture with others. Jews have witnessed firsthand what happens when a nation turns it back on those it deems different, takes away their voices, and creates their image of their own design. Therefore, it is the Jews who need to take the leading role in diversifying not just the Oscars, but the industry in its entirety.
There is a saying by Rabbi Hillel that goes “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” For years, the Jews have helped to support each other in the entertainment industry, providing opportunities and ensuring that Jews continue to have a place within Hollywood. Now, it’s time to move on to the next two parts of Hillel’s charge. It is time to remember that we cannot be only for ourselves, that we have an obligation to help those around us, and that the time to act is now.
© Eliana M. Levenson FF2 Media (2/27/15)
Top Photo: Photo of Dr. Jay Michaelson courtesy of his website: http://www.jaymichaelson.net/
Middle Photo: Photo of Rabbi Hillel quote
Bottom Photo: Photo of Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffery Katzenberg - Courtesy of the LA TIMES