Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: 260+ Signatories Sign Letter About Jewish Exclusion

Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Exterior Rendering ©Renzo Piano Building Workshop/©Academy Museum Foundation/Image from L’Autre Image

Some 260+ signatories have signed a letter about the Academy of Motion Picture of Arts and Sciences excluding Jews in diversity standards.

While I only signed on Tuesday evening, I would have signed much sooner had I known about it. As an industry professional, it is important that diversity efforts include Jews. We’ve seen what happens when diversity efforts do not include Jews and let me tell you, it’s never a good thing. Moreover, I’ve seen some of the response from other colleagues in response to this letter and the Jew-hatred is disappointing. Not in my entire life have I seen Jew-hatred at the high levels we’re seeing today, let alone experience it daily in whichever form it takes. The very fact that I have to unfriend and unfollow colleagues at an all-too-frequent rate is what makes it more disappointing. You think you know you’re friends and well, it turns out that you don’t.

If there’s is something that I need to stress, it is this: Jews are an ethno-religious people, not just a religion. What I hope the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and other people will understand is that the Jewish people do not fit into a checkbox as to how Western society–especially Americans–views race. This is why it’s important that diversity standards include Jews. When DEI efforts do not include Jews, it means that DEI efforts are failing. We’re already seeing how this is playing out in the academic world. There are only about 15 million Jews living in the world today with half the Jewish population living in Israel. We account for maybe 2% of the American population and suffer from the highest percentage of hate crimes.

To learn more about the efforts to other Jews throughout the centuries, I highly encourage watching Antisemitism. The film might focus on French Jew-hatred but it remains one of the most import documentaries that I’ve seen.

The letter–reprinted in its entirety below–was organized by the JITC Hollywood Bureau for Jewish Representation:

We write as actors, directors, producers, executives, agents, screenwriters, and other industry professionals. While we applaud the Academy’s efforts to increase diverse and authentic storytelling, an inclusion effort that excludes Jews is both steeped in and misunderstands antisemitism. It erases Jewish peoplehood and perpetuates myths of Jewish whiteness, power, and that racism against Jews is not a major issue or that it’s a thing of the past. 

While many mistakenly believe that Judaism is only a religion, Jews are actually an ethnic group, with varied spiritual practices that not all observe. Jews are an indigenous people to the Middle East with a continuous presence there for over 3000 years. This is not negated by the fact that Jews, like all marginalized groups, have white-passing members. Their colonization and exile led to millennia of persecution, and many Jews still carry the DNA of their foremothers’ oppressors. Antisemitic incidents are at an all-time high, with an increase of 400% since October 7–and Jews were already the most attacked minority group in the US per capita, according to the FBI 2022 hate crimes report. Online vitriol has also taken Jew-hatred to a new level. Cutting down perceived Jewish power has been an excuse for abusing Jews for centuries, most notably during the Spanish Inquisition and 1930s Germany.

Systemic racism against Jews in the United States included segregation, redlining, quotas, and gatekeeping, and was the motivation for the founders of Hollywood to start an industry where antisemitism wouldn’t harm them. Unfortunately, many of these founders had internalized shame and self-loathing, which meant that Jews in Hollywood often changed their names and told stories about Jews with caricatures, tropes, appropriation, and self-erasure. The first talkie film, “The Jazz Singer,” was about a Jew leaving the ways of his people. This dynamic is alive today, in films released as recently as this year. One of last year’s Oscar winners, “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” cast a Jewish woman to play a stereotypical “Jewish American Princess” called “Big Nose.” 

The absence of Jews from “under-represented” groupings implies that Jews are over-represented in films, which is simply untrue. There are very few films about Jews, aside from ones about the Holocaust. Moreover, when Jewish characters are featured, they are often played by non-Jews, a rare practice for other marginalized groups. While there have always been Jews working in the industry, the industry has only accommodated a certain type of Jew: the toned-down Jew. A more flagrantly looking or observing Jew has never had a home in Hollywood. Even with today’s increased standards of inclusion and diversity, that Jew continues to not be welcome. 

Jewish people being excluded from the Motion Picture Academy’s Representation and Inclusion Standards is discriminating against a protected class by invalidating their historic and genetic identity. This must be addressed immediately by including Jews in these standards. In addition, we’d like to propose further changes to the Representation and Inclusion Standards. When films use writers and consultants with expertise, pride, and cultural competency, when casting is done authentically, when film sets are set up to truly accommodate a diverse group of people, then a space of accommodation, inclusion and authenticity is created. These modifications would benefit everyone. A space like this has never existed for Jews in Hollywood, and the Motion Picture Academy has an opportunity to combat Jew-hatred by creating a framework for nuanced and authentic representation. 

There is a duty for the entertainment world to do its part in disseminating whole and human depictions of Jews, to increase understanding and empathy in viewers in these dangerous times. We ask the Motion Picture Academy leadership to do its part in advancing a just cause that has been ignored for too long.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.