Sarah Silverman Criticizes ‘Jewface’ Casting in Hollywood After Kathryn Hahn Hired to Play Jewish Icon Joan Rivers
Sarah Silverman. Photo: YouTube screenshot.
Actress and comedian Sarah Silverman slammed Hollywood last week for what she called its long-standing practice of “Jewface” after non-Jewish actress Kathryn Hahn was cast to play the late Jewish-American comedian and actress Joan Rivers in a new limited series.
“Kathryn Hahn did absolutely nothing wrong. She’s a brilliant actor … She’ll be great as Joan and singularly I have zero problem with it,” Silverman began by saying on the Sept. 30 episode of her podcast. “[But] 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.”
“One could argue, for instance, that a Gentile playing Joan Rivers correctly would be doing what is actually called ‘Jewface,’” she added, referencing the act of casting non-Jews to portray Jewish characters and having them enact Jewish stereotypes, such as wearing a large fake nose or long beard and speaking with a Yiddish accent.
Silverman further discussed antisemitic tropes that she said make people “unsympathetic towards Jews,” such as claims that “Jews run Hollywood” and “Jews are rich and powerful.” She argued that Hahn playing Rivers in Showtime’s limited series “The Comeback Girl” is only the most recent example of “Jewface” casting decisions, noting other instances where strong Jewish characters were played by non-Jewish actresses in film or television, including Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex,” Rachel Brosnahan in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan in “Mrs. America” and Rachel McAdams in “Disobedience.”
Hahn previously played a rabbi in the Amazon series “Transparent.”
“None of these actresses are doing anything wrong, but collectively it’s f***ed up,” Silverman said. “In a time when the importance of representation is seen as so essential and so front and center why does ours constantly get breached? … It has to also finally matter for Jews as well. Especially Jewish women. The pattern in film is just undeniable and the pattern is: if the Jewish woman character is courageous or deserves love, she is never played by a Jew.”
Discussion in Hollywood has been ongoing for years regarding the hiring of non-Jewish actors to portray Jewish characters. In 2018, Jen Rudin, an award-winning casting director and author, defended the practice by saying “acting is a profession and our goal and job as casting directors is to hire the most qualified actor for the role … If we are only casting Jewish actors for Jewish roles, it feeds into a racist or religious stereotype that Jews all look a certain way and then we are not open-minded in our casting searches.”