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David Baddiel defends Maureen Lipman over Helen Mirren casting comments: ‘She should not be abused for asking the question’

Baddiel has penned an op-ed on the criticism, or lack thereof, of non-Jewish people playing Jewish characters (Picture: David Levenson/Getty Images)

David Baddiel has addressed the backlash levelled against Dame Maureen Lipman, asking why shouldn’t ‘authentic casting’ apply to all minorities.

The Jews Don’t Count author responded to the criticism of Dame Maureen’s comments in regards to Dame Helen Mirren’s casting as former Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir, which has been compared to ‘Jewface’.

There have been concerns about Dame Helen, who is not Jewish, taking on the role rather than a Jewish actor, in Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv’s new film, Golda, with Dame Maureen, who is Jewish, previously telling the Jewish Chronicle of the casting: ‘With that I disagree, because the Jewishness of the character is so integral.

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

She added: ‘Perhaps you need to have some sort of panel of people who say this is not acceptable, this is acceptable.’

Dame Maureen went on to add during an appearance on Good Morning Britain: ‘I’ve nothing against Helen playing [her]. My query is, should the casting directors have looked first – and maybe they did – at Bette Midler or [Barbra] Streisand or Jennifer Connelly, or Scarlett Johansson, or indeed, I probably would have gone for Tracey Ullman, who’s a brilliant actress.

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

Following the criticism of Dame Maureen’s comments, comedian Baddiel has argued the casting of gentiles in Jewish roles should be met with the same response he believes is used when a star who doesn’t come from a minority background is cast in another minority role – but that, ultimately, it’s about context.

Dame Maureen was criticised for her comments (Picture: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

Still, he argues, the likes of Dame Maureen, or any Jewish person, ‘should not be abused for asking the question’.

Baddiel wrote in The Guardian that ‘over a period of extreme intensification of the progressive conversation about representation and inclusion and microaggression and what is and isn’t offensive to minorities, one minority – Jews – has been routinely neglected’, referencing the outrage reserved for the casting of, for instance, an able-bodied actor in a disabled part, or a cis actor in a trans part.

He supported the argument that the ‘truth’ of any marginalized group can be told only by those who have ‘lived that identity’ as he said: ‘Casting a non-minority actor to mimic that identity feels, to the progressive eye, like impersonation, and impersonation may carry with it an element of mockery – or at least seem reductive, reducing the complexity of that experience by channelling it through an actor who hasn’t lived it.’

Dame Helen in Golda (Picture: PA)

He went on to compare the treatment of two characters in Bojack Horseman: Vietnamese American character Diane Nguyen, who is voiced by the ‘not-Vietnamese at all’ Alison Brie, and Lenny Turteltaub – who is portrayed as a Jewish Hollywood stereotype – played by JK Simmons, who is not Jewish.

While Brie has apologised over voicing Diane, in regards to Lenny, Baddiel says ‘there has been no outcry’.

He went on to argue that while having a non-Jew act stereotypical Jewish ‘tics, shrugs, whining and kvetching’ is ‘disrespectful’, it’s still a ‘complex’ conversation.

Baddiel wrote: ‘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.’

Baddiel’s comments follow those of comedian Sarah Silverman, who called out the casting of gentiles as Jewish people in films, while Friday Night Dinner star Tamsin Greig admitted there would be wider conversation around the casting of her own character in the sitcom after initially suggesting she ‘probably shouldn’t’ have played a Jewish mum because she isn’t Jewish herself.

Silverman recently spoke of the casting of Kathryn Hahn as Joan Rivers, while also singling out Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsberg, accusing Hollywood of ‘Jewface’.

She said on her podcast: ‘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”’, which she explained as ‘when a non-Jew portrays a Jew with the Jewishness front and centre’, often with make-up, or ‘a big false nose’, and using a ‘New York-y or Yiddish-y’ accent.

In comparison, playwright Patrick Marber disagreed with Dame Maureen’s recent views during their appearance on GMB, saying that ‘lived experience’ should not be a vital part of making casting decisions, saying it was ‘sort of a denial of what creativity is and denies the actor the fundamental challenge and right to become someone else’.

He said: ‘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.’

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