The Umbrella Academy co-creator responds to claims Netflix show is antisemitic

Steve Blackman said organisation led by a Yiddish-speaking villain in hit series is ‘not evil’

Jacob Stolworthy
Thursday 06 August 2020 12:13 BST
The Umbrella Academy season two trailer

The Umbrella Academy's co-creator has responded to criticism of “antisemitic stereotypes” featured in its new season.

Netflix's hit series returned on Friday (31 July), and was soon criticised by many viewers for including a seemingly corrupt organisation whose evil boss, known as The Handler, is shown speaking Yiddish.

Yiddish is the language almost exclusively spoken by Ashkenazi Jews.

“The accusation of antisemitism in The Umbrella Academy is hurtful and, more importantly, factually incorrect,” co-creator Steve Blackman said.

Blackman – who is Jewish – said that he “wrote these episodes” and “created the character”, adding: "While I understand audiences sometimes receive things in a different way than creators intend, The Handler was not created as an antisemitic character.”

He also said that the organisation at the centre of the show, known as The Commission, is “not evil”.

“They do not control finances, governments, or the media,” Blackman said. “The only thing they control – and more importantly, protect – is the timeline of our fictional Umbrella Academy universe.”

The Handler – played by Kate Walsh – also appeared in the first season, which prompted The Board of Deputies of British Jews to write an open letter against the series back in 2019.

“The use of a Yiddish saying by the evil boss of an organisation which controls the world’s timeline is clearly an anti-Semitic trope,” Amanda Bowman, Vice President of the board, wrote.

“Whether intentional or not, this makes for very uncomfortable viewing. Netflix should take action to remove the racism from this scene.”

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Following the controversy, fans were shocked to see that the character was still using the language in new episodes.

Kate Walsh as the controversial Handler in ‘The Umbrella Academy’

One viewer said they believed its inclusion to be “deliberate” when considering the uproar it caused in 2019.

In season two, The Handler can also be seen speaking Mandarin and Swedish, something Blackman addressed in his response to the criticism: “The Handler speaks every language, including Swedish, Mandarin, Yiddish, and English.”

However, one viewer said this begs the question: “Why have her speak Yiddish when she could speak ANY other language?”

TikTok user @nyarchivist accused the show of “antisemitic dog whistling” in a video about the series.

“Having the villain speak that language is [saying], ‘Look at these big Jewish villains, aren’t they vile, look at their gross language.’ That is what it is. That is what it’s always been, because society is built on believing that Jewish people control everything. That is antisemitism.”

Another viewer added: “I don’t know what to tell you, The Umbrella Academy having the ‘secret world domination cult’ speaking Yiddish is definitely, intentionally antisemitic.”

The Umbrella Academy, which first aired in 2019, is an adaptation of My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way’s comic book series of the same name.

Starring Ellen Page and Robert Sheehan, the series follows a family of disparate former child heroes who reunite to protect the world.

Netflix denied The Independent‘s request for comment. Way is yet to respond.

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