Greg Berlanti is the executive producer of “Arrow,” “Supergirl,” “Titans,” “Riverdale” and “The Flash.” Between keeping his die-hard DC fans satisfied, the mega-producer also directed “Love, Simon” (2018) and currently is producing the upcoming film revival of “Little Shop of Horrors.”
One of the most pressing questions Berlanti faces, however, isn’t about a storyline or industry secret: It’s whether or not he’s a Jew.
“My son thinks I am Jewish,” Berlanti told his entertainment lawyer, Patti Felker, on a Zoom call hosted by the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles on May 12. “Nothing anyone can say, including my husband, will dissuade him from believing this. He just believes it.”
Raised in Westchester County, N.Y., “Our community was Jewish and Italian,” Berlanti told Felker, who secured him with a six-year $300-million deal with Warner Bros. in 2018. “I’m not sure that I knew I was one or the other until I was 9 or 10 years old.”
It turns out Berlanti was, in fact, Irish-Italian. He was an altar boy for five years and now considers himself a “recovering Catholic.” So why did Berlanti’s own son think he had Jewish roots? Because both Berlanti and his husband, ex-L.A. Galaxy soccer player Robbie Rogers, decided to raise both of their children in the Jewish faith. The fact neither of them had any Jewish heritage didn’t matter.
“I knew that I wanted the child to grow up with a sense of faith, but I had felt very alone in my Catholic faith, growing up,” Berlanti said, touching upon his experiences as a gay man. “So we made the conscious decision to raise our children Jewish. To that end, we sought out a Jewish egg donor — not the easiest thing to find, by the way.”
Even though Berlanti and Rogers have not converted to Judaism, they are raising two Jewish kids: a 5-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter. This alternative path was informed by Berlanti’s personal connection to Judaism. “I was always enthralled and comfortable around the Jewish religion. It was something calling to me as a kid,” he said. “It was the faith that I, in particular, was the most comfortable, beyond our faith.”
Berlanti’s household celebrates Shabbat and other Jewish traditions. Currently, their eldest attends Jewish day school. Recently, the couple went on a trip to Israel, which Berlanti described as a “really profound experience.” The fact that his son believes he already is Jewish, and not his husband, has alleviated some of the pressure for Berlanti to convert.
“At some point, I’m going to have to make that transition, but [my son] just believes that I am and delights in going on and making fun of his other father and saying, ‘Ha, ha, you’re not Jewish.’ ”
As the creator of the 2002 drama series “Everwood,” which centered around a Jewish family in a small town in Colorado, Berlanti said he was exposed to anti-Semitism firsthand.
“I chose to make the hero family of the show one of the Jewish faith — and then we chose to dramatize that in a lot of ways,” Berlanti said. “This was back when there was regular mail and you would get fan mail in boxes once a month as opposed to watching your show get torn to shreds or celebrated every second on Twitter. I was surprised by the amount of vitriol then, and it moved me.”
It was around that time Berlanti reached out to Felker to learn how he could advocate for Jewish people beyond representing them on screen. He wanted to know “what could I be doing in a practical way to help, because that was really disheartening for me to see.”
Berlanti, who has been at the forefront of diverse representation in Hollywood, still believes Jewish characters are not getting their due.
“There was a phase where there actually started to be more LGBTQ characters on television, in particular. They’re still not in mainstream movies, really. There’s a real dearth of those characters in films, as there are Jewish characters in mainstream films,” Berlanti said, noting how pitching diverse characters remains difficult because studios would pat themselves on the back for already having “a gay show” or a “Jewish show.” Berlanti finds this approach problematic. “It’s unwise and it’s unfair,” he said. So you have to push against it.”
“I was always enthralled and comfortable around the Jewish religion. It was something calling to me as a kid. It was the faith that I, in particular, was the most comfortable [with].” — Greg Berlanti
However, he added that he fears the COVID-19 pandemic might cause the industry to regress when it comes to inclusion. “The fact is, like so many businesses, what I’m sure is going to happen after this all lifts is there will be a sense of ‘let’s just do what we know. What we know is successful.’”
But Berlanti has been the poster boy for straying from his previous successes. Since beginning his career as a writer on “Dawson’s Creek,” which ran from 1998-2003, he has gone on to produce more than 30 television series, from teen thrillers including “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” to the White House miniseries “Political Animals” and “Batwoman.”
“When I started out, I did a lot of teen soaps, and it was really hard for me to get my first job in the superhero space,” Berlanti said. “For a time, I was seen as just a family drama person, and then we do something like the show “You” (2018), that’s on Netflix, and that’s obviously a thriller and is wicked and sinister.”
“It’s all storytelling to me,” he said. “Things that excite me are things I haven’t gotten to necessarily explore. The only way forward is to do new, fresh stuff.”
Ariel Sobel is the Journal’s social media editor.