"Jew-Face" - An Emerging Casting Issue?


Last year I was notified of a local production of Fiddler on the Roof which had an all-Christian cast and without a single Jewish person involved with the production. Needless to say, I found this a bit odd.

I have been a firm believer that when casting roles of color, they should be cast with performers of the role-required race. But when it comes to religion, I find that my stance softens more than a bit. This is because I feel that one's religion is not usually tied to a race classification. There are Asian Christians, there are Black Jews, there are White Muslims. So if a role is described as being simply of being of a certain religion, I more than not, feel that it's an open race role. 

But what about non-Jewish actors playing Jewish roles? While religious belief isn't a question that can be asked during auditions in Equity productions, should casting professionals make an effort to try to cast these roles "religiously correct"? I can see both sides of the argument.

With the few Jewish roles in theatre, many of them center on Jewish traditions, histories, and identity. So I can certainly see how a Jewish audience member might be offended by seeing Jewish roles filled by Gentile actors. 

But what if Christian actors use wigs and make-up to make themselves look "more Jewish"? Does that cross the line? Since it would involve cultural appropriation of that religion, I feel that it does. 

Is this becoming a larger issue when it comes to casting? With the recent widespread outrage when it happens with miscasting roles of color, I would be surprised if we don't hear about this more and more. 

For instance, I've recently been told of a production of Bad Jews where an actress is being asked by the theatre to potentially wear a wig or "figure out the Jewish hair" and ‘not wear makeup. I've also been told of a production of The Diary of Anne Frank, cast with non-Jewish actors who have been told to dye their hair darker to "look more Jewish". For me, that's wrong and I feel that it's the same as "Yellowface" and "Blackface". 

But I do feel that casting role of a certain religion with members of that religion, is going to be a topic that we may find ourselves talking about more in the coming years. 

Photo: Jessica Richards, Georgan George, Valerie Rose Lohman and Jack Kandel in “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Photo by Ed Krieger.