David Baddiel discusses non-Jewish actors playing Jewish characters

Helen Mirren was recently criticised by Maureen Lipman for playing Golda Meir

Sam Moore
Wednesday 12 January 2022 09:43 GMT
Baddiel criticises Cameron

David Baddiel has addressed the debate over whether non-Jewish actors should play Jewish roles.

In his latest column for The Guardian, the comedian discussed Maureen Lipman’s recent comments that Helen Mirren should not play former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir as she is not Jewish.

Baddiel wrote: “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.”

He then criticised Netflix animated series Bojack Horseman for having a Jewish character voiced by a non-Jewish actors.

“In Bojack Horseman, there is another character called Lenny Turteltaub,” Baddiel wrote. “He’s a turtle, but a very Jewish one, a very Jewish Hollywood producer stereotype, and he’s played by JK Simmons, who is not Jewish. There has been no outcry about that, and [Bojack creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg] has seen no need to get anguished about it.”

Baddiel, who has himself been accused of racism for his portrayal of footballer Jason Lee while in Blackface, went on to question why more Jewish roles weren’t played by Jewish actors.

“It’s odd, then, that so many Jewish parts are not cast with Jewish actors, even when the characters and storylines are very Jewish indeed,” he queried. “Why, if there are so many Jews in showbiz, is Gary Oldman cast as Herman Mankiewicz, or Rachel Brosnahan as Mrs Maisel?”

“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... says a lot about how people see Jews.”

Skinner and Baddiel in 1998
Skinner and Baddiel in 1998 (REX/Shutterstock)

Clarifying her original comments last week, Lipman said that while she had “nothing against” Mirren playing the role of Meir, she felt that casting directors should “look first” to actors whose identities intersect with their characters’.

“If the religion fires the character, then I honestly think you should look at that group, that gender,” she said. “If the character is gay, I think you should definitely see the gay actors first. See the Jewish actors first and if it doesn’t work out, fire ahead, go ahead.”

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Baddiel has previously issued several apologies over his use of Blackface on the Fantasy Football League show, which he hosted with Frank Skinner in the 1990s.

However, footballer Lee says that Baddiel never apologised to him directly.

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