Following her casting as former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in a recent biopic, Dame Helen Mirren has been accused of performing in “jewface” over the fact that she is not of Jewish descent.
The accusation was prominently leveled against the actress in a January 3rd piece published by the Jewish Chronicle, wherein author John Nathan spoke to various Jewish creatives for their opinion on the concept of “jewface.”
One such creative was British actress and comedian Dame Maureen Lipman (Ladies of Letters), who stated that she disagreed with Mirren’s casting “because the Jewishness of the character is so integral.”
“I’m sure she [Mirren] will be marvelous, but it would never be allowed for Ben Kingsley to play Nelson Mandela. You just couldn’t even go there,” she added. “Right now, representation f***ing matters. It has to also finally matter for Jews as well. Especially Jewish women.”
She then opined, “perhaps you need to have some sort of panel of people who say this is not acceptable, this is acceptable.”
Asked later by Variety to elaborate on her comments, Lipman asserted, “Helen will be great. Good actress, sexy and intelligent. Looks the part. My opinion, and that’s what it is, a mere opinion, is that if the character’s race, creed or gender drives or defines the portrayal then the correct — for want of an umbrella [term] — ethnicity should be a priority.”
“Which is not to say that ‘Pericles, Prince Of Tyre’ has to be [played by] a pure Tyresian thespian. It is complicated,” she continued. “We are really talking about lack of outcry. In a sense, I am a tiny outcry because every other creed, race or gender discussion with regard to casting [causes] tsunamis. Think Eddie Redmayne, Scarlett Johansson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Johnny Depp, Rooney Mara and, ridiculously, Javier Bardem in ‘Meet the Riccardos.’”
Of course, Lipman’s opinion is not representative of Jewish creatives as a whole.
Interestingly, in the same Jewish Chronicle piece in which Lipman accused Mirren of “jewface,” famed British playwright and director Patrick Marber (Leopoldstadt) said of the term, “I f—-ing hate that expression.”
“Because ‘lived experience’ is sort of a denial of what creativity is and denies the actor the fundamental challenge and right to become someone else to impersonate another human being from another time, from another culture, from another religion and another sexuality and other gender,” he asserted. “I really want us Jews to fight our corner, but to not be exclusive and excluding.”
Continuing, Marber explained, “I want us Jews to be liberal-minded and generous I think a gentile can play a Jew and a Jew can play a gentile. I don’t like it when someone plays a Jew and gets it wrong. [But] I don’t like quotas. I don’t like laws. I think we should be better than that, we Jews.”
Directed by Guy Nattiv (Skin (2018)) and written by British screenwriter Nicholas Martin (Florence Foster Jenkins), the eponymously named Golda tells the story of Meir’s five-year tenure as Israel’s prime minister, focusing in particular on her leadership amidst the 1973 Yom Kippur War – during which time she not only made the controversial decision to refuse pre-emptive strikes against the state’s opponents, but also grant Mossad agents authorization to hunt down the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.
Sparked by a surprise joint attack by Egyptian and Syrian forces seeking to seize parts of the Suez Canal against Israel on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, the conflict lasted a brief but devastating two weeks, eventually resulting in a victory for Israel which upset the political power structure of the Middle East.
The fall out of the Yom Kippur War would eventually result in both the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty and, thanks to the Jewish state’s establishment of itself as a key player in the region, escalated tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
As of writing, Mirren has not publicly responded to Lipman’s accusation.
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