A new generation of Jewish actresses ups the ante for Jewish women

I guess I should blame my college concentration in women’s studies for focusing my attention on the social, economic and political realities facing women. It sure beat math class. Though once you begin to see various narratives through a particular lens, you can’t go back, you can only add.

My attention to female narrative is thus automatic and ingrained, not only because I observe women but because I am one, and it’s only natural that it should inform the way I see the world. This affects people I meet, books I read, and among countless other things, the way I watch movies.

I can’t help but notice issues of representation in Hollywood, especially where they pertain to women, because of the immense influence Hollywood has on cultural ideas and attitudes.

The subject of this week’s Jewish Journal cover story is an attempt to investigate and understand how a new generation of Jewish actresses is subverting stereotypical notions of Jewish women.

Anyone who is thinking, “Of course she’d write nice things about Jewish girls, she is one!”—well yes (except in class they’d say, ‘You’re not a girl! You’re a WOMYN!”) but I don’t write Hollywood history, I only repeat it.

The year is 1950. The setting is a dimly lit movie studio backlot. It’s the middle of the night, and an attractive young woman named Betty Schaefer is explaining to her screenwriting partner why she became a writer instead of what she really wanted to be — an actress. The movie is “Sunset Boulevard.”

“I come from a picture family,” Schaefer (Nancy Olson) tells Joe Gillis (William Holden). “Naturally, they took it for granted I was to become a great star.  So I had 10 years of dramatic lessons, diction, dancing. Then the studio made a test.  Well, they didn’t like my nose — it slanted this way a little. I went to a doctor and had it fixed.  They made more tests, and they were crazy about my nose — only they didn’t like my acting.”

Though it’s never overtly stated, the obvious implication is that Betty Schaefer is Jewish. If you’ve ever wanted to understand the ambivalence Hollywood has felt toward Jewish women, there it is in glorious black and white.

Read the rest here