David Baddiel says Jewish roles should be cast 'authentically'

David Baddiel says Jewish roles aren’t cast ‘authentically’ when compared to other minorities – despite facing backlash for using blackface in historic sketch – as he wades into row over Helen Mirren playing Israeli PM

  • The comedian said he feels there’s little backlash when Jewish actors are overlook for roles representing their religion
  • He noted this is a stark contrast to other races and religions, who have been given ample opportunity to represent themselves in film and TV roles
  • David himself faced backlash when a 1992 sketch showing his use of blackface emerged. He has since apologised 
  • It comes after Helen Mirren was cast as Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in an upcoming biopic
  • Maureen Lipman previously noted the role should be played by ‘a Jewish actress’ 
  • David Baddiel has said that Jewish roles should be cast ‘authentically,’ following backlash around Helen Mirren being cast as Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. 

    In a piece for The Guardian, the comedian, who himself faced backlash for using blackface in a sketch, explained that despite calls for minority actors to be prioritised for relevant roles, there’s little reaction when Jewish stars are overlooked. 

    It comes after actress Maureen Lipman sparked backlash when she stated that a Jewish actress should have been considered ahead of Helen for the role in the upcoming film Golda.

    Views: David Baddiel has said that Jewish roles should be cast 'authentically,' following backlash around Helen Mirren being cast as Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (pictured)

    Views: David Baddiel has said that Jewish roles should be cast ‘authentically,’ following backlash around Helen Mirren being cast as Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (pictured)

    David’s views on the row come after he was forced to apologise for using blackface in the 90s sketch show Fantasy Football League, where he impersonated footballer Jason Lee.

    The sportsman later said the depiction was a ‘form of bullying.’

    David has since apologised for the depiction multiple times, with his most recent coming in June 2020, when he said on Twitter: ‘I wore blackface in TV sketches 25 years ago. I have apologised. I will apologise now again: it was wrong.’

    Drama: The comedian, has himself faced backlash for a historic use of blackface in a 1992 sketch for The Fantasy Football League show, for which he has since apologised many times

    Drama: The comedian, has himself faced backlash for a historic use of blackface in a 1992 sketch for The Fantasy Football League show, for which he has since apologised many times

    The writer, who is Jewish himself, explained in his piece that despite many years of campaigning for minority roles being played by the appropriate actors, he feels Jews have been largely ignored.

    He referred to the example of the acclaimed animated series BoJack Horseman, which sparked backlash when it was revealed that the Vietnamese-American character Diane Nguyen, is voiced by Alison Brie.

    David noted that while the show’s creator profusely apologised, the fact that the Jewish character Lenny Turteltaub is voiced by JK Simmons has been largely overlooked.

    Speaking out: The comedian explained that despite increased calls for the minority actors to be prioritised for relevant roles, there's little backlash when Jewish actors are overlooked

    Speaking out: The comedian explained that despite increased calls for the minority actors to be prioritised for relevant roles, there’s little backlash when Jewish actors are overlooked

    He wrote: ‘Many instinctively see Jewishness as a religion, rather than an ethnicity, and therefore antisemitism as religious intolerance rather than racism, despite, as I’ve pointed out many times, my great-uncle being an atheist not getting him any free passes out of the Warsaw ghetto. 

    ‘But primarily, it’s about Jews being assumed, antisemitically, to be successful and privileged and powerful, and therefore not in need of the protections that identity politics affords other minorities.’

    David also questioned the assumption that while there are plenty of Jewish actors to choose when casting roles, many recent shows, such as Friday Night Dinner and Ridley Road, still struggled to fill their cast with the appropriate stars. 

    He added: ‘I believe two things at once – that in an ideal world, non-Jews should be allowed to play Jews, but the fact this allowance already exists, and has up to this point received very little pushback is, in the modern casting context, a discrepancy, and one that needs to be deconstructed, because it says a lot about how people see Jews.’ 

    Opinion: David's comments come in the wake of Maureen's own thoughts on Helen's casting as ex-Israeli Prime Minister Meir

    Opinion: David’s comments come in the wake of Maureen’s own thoughts on Helen’s casting as ex-Israeli Prime Minister Meir 

    David’s comments come in the wake of Maureen’s own thoughts on Helen’s casting as ex-Israeli Prime Minister Meir, stating stars such as Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand, who are Jewish, should have been considered ahead of the Oscar-winner. 

    Doubling down on her comments on Good Morning Britain earlier this month, the Coronation Street star suggested suggested Scarlett Johansson, whose mother is from an Ashkenazi Jewish family, could have played the part.

    But she somewhat undermined her own argument by also suggesting Tracey Ullman, who isn’t Jewish, as another possible contender, before confessing to ‘contradicting’ her own comments.

    She said she did not want to get to a stage where ‘only actors with scoliosis could play Shakespeare’s Richard III’.

    Asked if she thinks she had upset Dame Helen with her comments, she said: ‘I don’t know Helen, I have met her once, we had one exchange. 

    ‘I was going out with a dangerous man at the time and she said “Ooh I would like to go out with a dangerous man”, and that was the conversation.’ 

    Hitting back: Her comments sparked fans to point out that she herself had played a vicar in a 2015 Red Nose Day special of the Vicar of Dibley (pictured centre)

    Hitting back: Her comments sparked fans to point out that she herself had played a vicar in a 2015 Red Nose Day special of the Vicar of Dibley (pictured centre)

    Ms Meir (pictured in 1969) was the fourth prime minister of Israel and held the position from 1969 until 1974

    A publicity image of the film Golda, where Dame Helen portrayed Ms Meir during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, showed Dame Helen covered in prosthetic to look more like the politician.

    Transformed: A publicity image of the film Golda (L), where Helen portrayed Meir (R) during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, showed her covered in prosthetic to look more like the politician 








    She also said she believed Dame Helen, 76, would be a good fit for the role as Ms Meir – affectionately labelled ‘the grandmother of the Jewish people’ – because ‘she is sexy’. 

    Her latest comments were made in an interview with Good Morning Britain, in which she also revealed that she had only met Dame Helen once.

    But she said she expects the highly-acclaimed actress will ‘understand’ the contexts behind her comments and urged her to look beyond the ‘headlines’.

    It comes after Dame Maureen, who is Jewish, sparked a row by questioning the casting of Dame Helen’s as Ms Meir – Israel’s first female Prime Minister.

    The times that Dame Maureen Lipman has played non-Jewish characters

    Up the Junction (1968) – Sylvie – A working class girl who befriends a wealthy young heiress

    The Smashing Bird I Used to Know (1969) – Sarah – A lesbian prisoner who befriends an inmate from a middle-class background  

    On Your Way, Riley (1985) – Kitty McShane – A fictional version of the real-life Irish actress  

    Educating Rita (1983) – Trish – A room mate of the titular character Rita

    Water (1985) – Margaret Thatcher – A fictional version of the real-life British prime minister

    Bookmark (1992) – Enid Blyton – A fictional version of the real life English writer 

    Coronation Street (2002) – Lillian Spencer – A relief manager who helps run the Rovers Return Inn

    Doctor Who (2006) – The Wire – An energy being villain that takes the souls of TV-watching Britons during Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation

    Holby City (2011) – Bonnie Walters – A patient at Holby City Hospital

    The Vicar of Dibley (2015) – Alicia – A Church of England vicar competing with five other women to become an archbishop

    Coronation Street (2018 to Present) – Evelyn Plummer – the grandmother of established character Tyrone Dobbs

     

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    Dame Maureen previously said she felt uncomfortable at the casting of the multi award-winning actress, who is not Jewish, because the ‘Jewishness of (Meir’s) character is so integral’.

    However figures from the UK’s Jewish community defend the casting, including Rabbi Jonathan Romain who said: ‘You don’t have to be Jewish to play a Jew’.

    Despite the criticism, Dame Maureen, who once played a Church of England reverend in the Vicar of Dibley, today doubled-down on her view.

    In an interview with Good Morning Britain, she said : ‘My feeling is, firstly, that Helen Mirren is a fine actress, and will be brilliant in the role and will green-light the film

    ‘And she will be very good because she is sexy and Golda Meir, believe it or not, was very sexy. She didn’t look it but read her book.

    ‘And I’ve seen shows about her before, so I have nothing against Helen playing it.

    ‘My query is should the casting directors looked first, and maybe they did, at Bette Midler, (Barbara) Streisand, Jennifer Connolly, Scarlet Johansson, or indeed, probably I would have gone with, Tracey Ullman, who is a brilliant actress.

    ‘But maybe they wouldn’t have green-light a film and maybe they have considered that Helen has Russian in her background and therefore she could play this Jewish women from Milwaukee.’

    Dame Maureen also admitted she herself had been questioned for playing an Irish Catholic, a role which was critiqued by the late Canadian film critic Milton Shulman. 

    ‘It’s a complicated argument, and I will end up contradicting myself, but say for example that, you wanted to cast a film about Ghandi, would it be alright, would there be a fuss, if you cast Salma Hayek say, a Mexican, probably Catholic?

    ‘Once I played an Irish Catholic, and Milton Shulman wrote a review: “Maureen Lipman playing an Irish Catholic is like Barbara Streisand playing mother Theresa”.

    ‘Now you might say “why not?”.’

    Different star? Maureen said Helen should not have been asked to play the Israeli leader Meir, adding that she was uncomfortable with the casting

    Different star? Maureen said Helen should not have been asked to play the Israeli leader Meir, adding that she was uncomfortable with the casting

    Asked if acting was about the skill of a person’s portrayal of a character, she joked: ‘Of course, and that’s why I would be arguing against myself, because as globalisation gets bigger, casting gets smaller.

    ‘And we are getting more and more tribal. So in the end, if you were doing the “Maureen Lipman Show” you would only be able to have a 75-year-old woman who was born in Northfield Road, Hull, with an overbite and myopia.

    ‘And it’s crazy, it’s not what it should be. 

    ‘But you’ve had a lot of things lately, like Javier Bardem has been criticised because he’s Spanish, not Cuban, in Being the Ricardos – that’s nuts.

    ‘Jake Gyllenhaal has played a Persian when he’s American-Swedish, Rooney Mara has been criticised for playing a Native American. 








    ‘My point here, and I’m contradicting myself, as I said, if the religion fires the character, then I honestly think you should look at that group that gender, if the character is gay I think you should see the gay actors first, see the Jewish actors first, if it doesn’t work out, fair enough, go ahead.

    ‘Clearly there will never be another Lawrence Olivier playing Othello, that’s probably right, although he was wonderful, or an Alec Guinness in A Passage to India – that’s been and gone – but we don’t want to get to a stage where Richard III has to be played by someone with Scoliosis, whose committed insanity.’ 

    Asked if she thinks she had upset Dame Helen with her comments, she added: ‘I’m sure that she of all people will understand what the headline was was not necessarily what the context was. So I’m not worried about that.’ 

    Expressing: Rabbi Jonathan Romain, director of Maidenhead Synagogue in Berkshire also took to Twitter to express his view on the row, saying: 'You don't have to be Jewish to play a Jew'

    Expressing: Rabbi Jonathan Romain, director of Maidenhead Synagogue in Berkshire also took to Twitter to express his view on the row, saying: ‘You don’t have to be Jewish to play a Jew’

    It is not clear if those behind the film, which is being directed by acclaimed Israeli director Guy Nattiv, had considered Jewish actresses for the role prior to Dame Helen’s casting. MailOnline has contacted representatives for comment. 

    Dame Maureen’s latest comments come as Rabbi Jonathan Romain, director of Maidenhead Synagogue in Berkshire, yesterday took to Twitter to express his view on the row, saying: ‘You don’t have to be Jewish to play a Jew’. 

    Taking to Twitter, Rabbi Romain, 67, wrote: ‘We had a discussion on this at Maidenhead Synagogue two weeks ago; the unanimous verdict was that actors should act – that’s what is their skill. 

    Thoughts: Many others have taken to Twitter to share their thoughts, with many noting Jewish roles shouldn't be specifically limited to Jewish actors

    Thoughts: Many others have taken to Twitter to share their thoughts, with many noting Jewish roles shouldn’t be specifically limited to Jewish actors

    The first woman to be the prime minister of Israel who earned the nicknamed the ‘strong-willed grandmother of the Jewish people’: Who is Golda Meir?

    Born Golda Mabovitch in Kiev, present-day Ukraine, in 1898, Golda Meir would go on to become on of Israel’s most prominent political figures.

    Her father, Moshe, was a carpenter in the city, then under the control of the Russia empire.

    She faced a difficult life as a child, later recording in her autobiography that her first memory was of her parents boarding up their home for fear of anti-Semitic violence.

    Meir grew up with two sisters, Sheyna and Tzipke, as well as five other siblings who died in childhood.

    In 1903, her father Kiev for New York City, while her family moved to Pinsk in modern-day Belarus.

    After finding a job and in Milwaukee, Moshe moved his family over the United States, where Meir’s mother Blume Mabovitch ran a grocery store.

    Born Golda Mabovitch in Kiev, present-day Ukraine, in 1898, Golda Meir would go on to become on of Israel's most prominent political figures. Pictured: Golda Meir standing with U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1973

    Born Golda Mabovitch in Kiev, present-day Ukraine, in 1898, Golda Meir would go on to become on of Israel’s most prominent political figures. Pictured: Golda Meir standing with U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1973

    Meir showed leadership skills at a young age, organizing a fundraiser to pay for her classmates’ textbooks and forming the American Young Sisters Society.

    While at high school she joined the Labour Zionist Youth Movement and became a keen Socialist Zionist. 

    She married sign painter Morris Meyerson in 1917 after the pair met in Denver four years earlier. She remained married to him until his death in 1951. The pair had two children together.

    As part of a pre-condition of their marriage, Meir agreed to settle in Palestine, but the couple were delayed due to the US entering the First World War.

    The pair made the move in 1921 with her sister Sheyna, living in an international community of Jews known as a kibbutz. They later moved to Tel Aviv before settling in Jerusalem.

    It was here she became secretary of the Working Women’s Council, a job which meant she returned to the US for two years as an emissary.

    During her time back in America she was the Jewish observer from Palestine at the Évian Conference – where a discussion took place on Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution in Germany.

    Meir continued to rise up the ranks in Jewish politics and was one of 24 signatories of the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.

    She was selected as Minister Plenipotentiary to Moscow, carrying the first Israeli-issued passport, before being elected to the Knesset and becoming Israel’s Labor Minister – a position she held from 1949 until 1956.

    During Meir's (pictured in 1973) time as premier she faced dealing with the fourth Israel-Arab conflict - which came to be known as the Yom Kippur War. The short 19 day war ended in an Israeli victory

    During Meir’s (pictured in 1973) time as premier she faced dealing with the fourth Israel-Arab conflict – which came to be known as the Yom Kippur War. The short 19 day war ended in an Israeli victory

    Meir later served as Foreign Minister, before stepping back from her role in 1966 after being diagnosed with lymphoma.

    However she returned to front line politics in 1969 after being elected by her party to succeed leader Levi Eshkol following his sudden death.

    She became Israel’s fourth Prime Minister – and the first female Prime Minister – a role she held until 1974.

    During her time as premier she faced dealing with the fourth Israel-Arab conflict – which came to be known as the Yom Kippur War. The short 19 day war ended in an Israeli victory.

    But her government became plagued by infighting and questions over Israel’s lack of preparation for conflict.

    Her party won the next election, but her coalition government lost seats and was unable to form a majority, leading to her resignation.

    Two years later, in 1975, Meir was awarded the Israel Prize for her special contribution to society and the State of Israel.

    In 1978, five years after her resignation, Meir died of lymphoma at the age of 80. 

    However her legacy lives on in Israel, where, while her success as a prime minister is debated, she is widely praised for her work as a labour and foreign minister.

    Today she is described as the ‘strong-willed grandmother of the Jewish people’, while others have referred to her as the original ‘Iron Lady’ before British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

    In the Muslim world however her legacy is one of controversy, having been quoted in 1969 in the Times as saying: ‘There were no such thing as Palestinians’. 

    In 2019, the American Muslims for Palestine, a US-based group dedicated to educating the American public about Palestine, said: ‘She had no problem with forcibly removing people from their homes and kicking them out of their country in order that Israel may exist.’

    In the US Meir has several buildings named after her, including a school and a library in Milwaukee, where she lived her early years, while there is a bust of her at Golda Meir Square, New York City.

    In Israel she has has a road named after her, Golda Meir Boulevard, Jerusalem, and a performing arts centre, Gold Meir Centre for Performing Arts, which is home to the Israeli Opera. 

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    ‘You don’t have to be Jewish to play a Jew or orphaned to be an orphan. But it’s wise to have an adviser from whatever is the context.’  

    Meanwhile, Mr Pollard, who was up until last month the editor of the weekly newspaper, Tweeted: ‘I adore Maureen Lipman but she couldn’t be more wrong on this. 

    ‘The logic of her position is that the only character any actor can play is themselves.’

    However journalist Nicole Lambert, responded to say the position is ‘more nuanced’.

    She wrote: ‘I think a more nuanced take is that sometimes these roles of brilliant Jewish women should sometimes be played by Jewish women. And they never are.’

    The row comes after Dame Maureen spoke to the Jewish Chronicle and gave her view on the casting.

    In November a publicity image of the film Golda, where Dame Helen portrayed Ms Meir during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, showed Dame Helen covered in prosthetic to look more like the politician. 

    Ms Meir was the fourth prime minister of Israel and held the position from 1969 until 1974.

    During her time as premier she faced dealing with the fourth Israel-Arab conflict – which came to be known as the Yom Kippur War. The short 19 day war ended in a Israel victory.

    But her government became plagued by infighting and questions over Israel’s lack of preparation for conflict.

    Her party won the next election, but her coalition government lost seats and was unable to form a majority, leading to her resignation.

    Two years later, in 1975, Meir was awarded the Israel Prize for her special contribution to society and the State of Israel.

    Speaking about the casting of Dame Helen for the role of Golda, Dame Maureen said: ‘The Jewishness of the character is so integral. 

    ‘I’m sure she will be marvellous, but it would never be allowed for Ben Kingsley to play Nelson Mandela. You just couldn’t even go there.’

    Dame Maureen’s comments sparked fans to point out that she herself had played a vicar in a 2015 Red Nose Day special of the Vicar of Dibley.

    In the comedy special, Dame Maureen’s character competed with Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Emma Watson and Ruth Jones, Annette Crosbie for the job of archbishop.

    It is later revealed there are five positions open and Dawn French’s character is the only one not to be selected.

    She returns to find she has been replaced in her Dibley role by another vicar, played by presenter Fiona Bruce.

    It comes after Tamsin Greig told The Daily Telegraph last month she ‘probably shouldn’t’ have played a Jewish mother in Channel 4’s Friday Night Dinner. 

    Ms Greig is a practising Christian, although does have Jewish ancestry.

    But Patrick Marber, the playwright who directed Sir Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, said he did not think ‘lived experience’ should be taken into consideration when casting for roles.

    He said to force actors to have experienced lives similar to the characters they play would deny the actor the challenge and right to impersonate someone else.

    Sarah Silverman, the US comedian, has previously slammed the casting of non-Jewish actress Kathryn Hahn as Joan Rivers, calling it ‘Jewface’.

    Elliot Levey, who is currently playing a German Jew in Cabaret in the West End, called the argument a ‘dystopian nightmare’ as he criticised the idea of ‘people showing their papers to authenticate Jewish ancestry’.

    Dame Helen is a supporter of Israel, adding her name to an open letter rejecting a cultural boycott of the country.

    While promoting her film The Debt, in which she played a retired Mossad agent, she was asked by The New York Times whether she might be ‘a secret Jew’.

    She said she ‘wouldn’t be surprised’.

    Last year internet trolls branded Dame Helen ‘racist’ and described her as a ‘well known Zionist and Israel-worshipper’ after taking on the role of wartime prime minister Ms Meir.

    The film, Golda, is set during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 when Arab states attacked Israel.

    Dame Helen described Meir as ‘a formidable, intransigent and powerful leader’ and said it was ‘a great challenge to portray her at the most difficult moment of her extraordinary life’.

    But critics on social media described the production as ‘fascism’, ‘sick’ and ‘tasteless’. 

    One Twitter user, who said they were ‘Palestinian and proud’, wrote: ‘How sick making a biopic on criminal Golda Meir and yes no surprise Helen Mirren the racist is happy to portray the pure distorted version of a disgusting individual.’

    Another wrote: ‘Helen Mirren doing a film about the first female prime minister of Israel is a slap in the face to all the people of Palestine, they are literally celebrating taking over Palestine and taking families out of their homes, murdering children, families! Tasteless film!’

    One social-media user said it was ‘hugely disappointing that Helen Mirren is volunteering for this role’, while another wrote: ‘More fascism to show how ‘wonderful’ Israel is.’ 

    Born in Ukraine in 1898 before moving to the US as a child, Meir made history in 1969 as Israel’s first female prime minister.

    She soon provoked international controversy, saying: ‘There were no such thing as Palestinians.’ 

    Meir faced huge criticism in Israel for failing to adequately prepare for the threat of war, despite receiving word that Arab forces were gathering for an attack. 

    Following the backlash for her handling of the war, Meir announced her resignation in 1974. She died in 1978 aged 80.

    Dame Helen has faced criticism in the past for saying that she was a ‘believer’ in Israel and that she rejected calls to boycott the country.

    The film also stars Call My Agent! actress Camille Cottin as Meir’s personal assistant and Israeli Lior Ashkenazi as her chief of staff.

    Praised: Helen Mirren previously described Golda Meir as 'a formidable, intransigent and powerful leader'

    Praised: Helen Mirren previously described Golda Meir as ‘a formidable, intransigent and powerful leader’

    Icon: Israeli Prime Minister Meir (1898 - 1978) is pictured at the Socialist International Congress in Eastbourne, Sussex, in 1969

    Icon: Israeli Prime Minister Meir (1898 – 1978) is pictured at the Socialist International Congress in Eastbourne, Sussex, in 1969

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