Posted by Abe Fried-Tanzer
Most of the winners were expected, and the speeches weren’t groundbreaking or over-the-top, especially since some of the lesser-known winners had their thank-yous unceremoniously cut off by the main theme from Jaws. Tributes to the James Bond franchise and recent musicals dominated a portion of the evening, and audience members gasped at the first tie in almost two decades, which happened in the Best Sound Editing race. Yet one of the evening’s briefest moments has been the talk of many blogs and articles since the show, and that was the appearance of Ted, voiced by host Seth MacFarlane.
After introducing the awards with the assistance of William Shatner’s Captain James Kirk, who warned MacFarlane about all of the offensive things he did in an alternate future during the show to merit an awful review, his most memorable potential misstep came when he wasn’t even seen on stage. The central character of his successful June comedy, foul-mouthed teddy bear Ted, came out to announce a category with Mark Wahlberg. Ted proceeded to recognize several actors present – Alan Arkin, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Joaquin Phoenix – noting that they all had Jewish heritage. He then asked Wahlberg if he was Jewish, and, after hearing that he was in fact Catholic, told him “wrong answer” and suggested that he should be Jewish and donate to Israel if he wants to continue working in Hollywood. Ted closed his speech with a mention of receiving a private plane at the next secret synagogue meeting.
It’s actually surprising that this was the sole Jewish moment of the Oscars this year. Other awards shows in the past have had equally humorous Jewish shout-outs, like Brad Garrett’s proclamation upon winning an Emmy for Everybody Loves Raymond that his victory could pave the way for Jews to finally break into Hollywood. What Ted said, however, has earned criticism from, among others, the Anti-Defamation League, which deemed it “offensive and not remotely funny.” Jewish Journal editor-in-chief Rob Eshman took the time to respond to that statement, explaining that this could be an opportunity for people to look at why Hollywood is so populated by Jews in a positive manner.
More interesting is the timing of Ted’s words. This ceremony was otherwise completely Judaism-free. While some of the winners, Day-Lewis being the most notable, have Jewish ancestry, almost none of the films nominated had Jewish content. Christoph Waltz won his first Oscar three years ago for playing a Nazi in Inglourious Basterds, a film with much controversial Jewish content, and this year triumphed for Django Unchained, a film with wholly different themes. Helen Hunt’s role in The Sessions was the only overt instance of Judaism I found among this year’s nominees. Ted’s quip about donating to Israel was especially interesting considering two of the nominees for Best Documentary Feature. 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers both espouse opinions that run contrary to Israeli public policy. Calls for donations to Israel from Hollywood at this time seem unlikely at best.
Ted’s remark has troubled many, but it seems more representative of the fact that, with the percentage of Hollywood that is made up of Jews, that population is entitled to one joke over the course of a three-and-a-half-hour telecast. Ted didn’t specifically disparage anyone, and though the connotations of donating to Israel might suggest otherwise, being money-grubbing wasn’t a characteristic attributed to the Jews. MacFarlane didn’t come on to the Oscars purporting to be safe, and while some were also put off by his alleged sexism and racism, I think most people got what they expected from this boundary-pushing comedian who, to be frank, didn’t push the envelope all that far. Ricky Gervais closed one of his Golden Globes telecasts by thanking God for making him an atheist, and MacFarlane’s sins wee hardly more severe.
7.8.13 at 8:20 am | A look at Showtime's newest series and its major. . .
5.21.13 at 5:06 am | Cathy finds religion - sort of - in the series. . .
5.17.13 at 4:49 am | An overview of the themes and plot points from. . .
4.28.13 at 10:29 am | A look at those films from the 2013 Tribeca Film. . .
4.7.13 at 6:55 am | Jewish Superman is an unexpected character in the. . .
3.24.13 at 6:48 am | A look at a terrific Passover seder scene from. . .
3.11.13 at 5:24 am | A look at Seth Rogen's recent guest appearance on. . . (9)
2.26.13 at 9:36 am | A take on Seth MacFarlane's risque Jewish Oscar. . . (6)
7.8.13 at 8:20 am | A look at Showtime's newest series and its major. . . (3)
February 18, 2013 | 2:42 pm
Posted by Abe Fried-Tanzer
While the excellent winner of the Ophir (Israel’s Oscars) for Best Picture, Sundance Film Festival entry Fill the Void, didn’t make the cut for the Best Foreign Film category, the Oscar nominee list still features an impressive slate from Israel. In fact, it’s doubly represented in the Best Documentary Feature race, by The Gatekeepers, from Israeli Dror Moreh, and 5 Broken Cameras from Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi. These two films have been selected as the crowning achievements of nonfiction filmmaking, and it doesn’t provide anything close to a positive view of Israel.
The Gatekeepers has been widely praised as a groundbreaking exposé which brings to light the unexpected opinions of the six living former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s Secret Service. All of Moreh’s interview subjects express a sincere lack of confidence in the attitude the Israeli government has held and currently holds towards the Palestinian people. When I spoke with Moreh, he said that this is an important film for the world to see, to comprehend that Israelis can be critical of their government’s policies. Yet it is an enormously destructive and dangerous film, one which provides no context for its preconceived notions. An op-ed in the Jerusalem Post breaks down the way in which Moreh’s film completely ignores the prevalence of terrorism. During our conversation, Moreh admitted that the Palestinians are also to blame for the lack of progress in the Middle East, yet his film irresponsibly fails to include anything to support that belief.
5 Broken Cameras, on the other hand, provides a narrow frame of focus, as Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat has five cameras destroyed while attempting to document the activities of Israeli settlers and the army’s response to the activism prompted by it. The context of the film is less problematic, but its message is equally troubling. Burnat creates his film to showcase his mission as akin to that of an oppressed people fighting up against its militant rulers, comparable to recent documentary subjects like Burma VJ (Burma), The Square (Egypt), and This Is Not a Film (Iran). Burnat’s story is disturbing most for the unfortunate trajectory of events that befalls him, which include the death of one of his good friends and a serious injury he sustains that leads to exorbitant medical bills. Regardless of the legitimacy of his cause, Burnat repeatedly defies explicit warnings to stop filming and uses the concept of nonviolent resistance as a catch-all defense for his revolutionary behavior. At one point in the film, Burnat’s wife asks her son how he felt when he came face-to-face with Israeli soldiers, repeatedly and belligerently suggesting that he must have been scared, a sentiment he eventually echoes after several moments of silence. It’s no surprise that achieving both peace and civility is difficult within a culture in which hatred is propagated for the other from a young age.
Both The Gatekeepers and 5 Broken Cameras are understandably tough films to watch for those passionate about Israel, wherever on the spectrum viewers may fall. As films, the former is manipulative in the construction of its argument, while the latter clearly stems more from a clear and visible personal passion that aligns with the filmmaker’s own life and pursuits. Taken together as two-fifths of the best in nonfiction film in 2012, it offers a worryingly negative perception of Israel that may be all too prevalent in Hollywood.
February 4, 2013 | 11:31 am
Posted by Abe Fried-Tanzer
A funny thing happened this past Wednesday night. I was watching Suburgatory, a show where you’d least expect to encounter any mention of Judaism. The send-up of suburbia features the most plastic characters you’d ever hope to meet. The fictional town of Chatswin is every native New Yorker’s nightmare, the basis for the ABC comedy, which started when single father George (Jeremy Sisto) whisked his daughter Tessa (Jane Levy) away from the big city to her own personal hell. Now that George has finally found romance with Dallas (Cheryl Hines), the show caught a rare glimpse of Judaism when another man tried to steal her away.
In a place like Chatswin, culture is dominated by fashion and material things. Religion is rarely mentioned, especially since this show often gives in to its wilder temptations, featuring wholly over-the-top storylines, like jock Ryan’s (Parker Young) reaction to the news that he was adopted, prompting him to refer to himself under a new name, Eugene Goldfarb. The irreverent comedy has actually already tapped into Judaism once before, in an episode earlier this season, “Foam Finger.” Depressed because she was not included in her father’s second wedding, the airheaded Dalia (Carly Chaikin) worked briefly with a Jewish magician named Evan, assisting him on magic tricks involving kugel. When she called him a mensch and alluded to their possible future together, he immediately said that it would never work because she’s a shiksa. At the end of the episode, Dalia snuck out to her garage, opened up a Torah, and began chanting from it.
This latest brush with Judaism is just as random and unexplained. When Dallas’ dog Yakult begins acting strangely, Dallas is convinced that Wilmer Valderrama’s eccentric Guatemalan guru Yoni is the only one who can help get the dog back to a good place. Yoni’s religion is never explicitly referenced, though his emphasis on the pronunciation of his name – George calls him “Ya-ni” – suggests Hebrew heritage. More still, as George struggles to keep Dallas from falling for Yoni’s attempts to push him out, he bonds with Dallas’ daughter, Dalia, who, for once, offers a look into what might be going on in her head. We meet them mid-conversation, as Dalia explains that she is having trouble grasping, in her own words, “Why a loving God would ask Abraham or whatever to sacrifice his like precious son.” She laments the fact that, were she to convert, she “totally got jerked on this whole Bat Mitzvah thing” and ends her speech with “In closing, kugel!”
Dalia’s sudden interest in being Jewish is a peculiar phenomenon, and, unlike some fuller television forays into Judaism, this trip feels extremely unfulfilling. Cheryl Hines had an opportunity to encounter religious Judaism in the hilarious “The Ski Lift” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, when she mistakenly prepared a plateful of bacon for her Orthodox hosts. Inserting Dalia’s meditation on Abraham and Isaac and a shot of her reading from the Torah adds little to both the show and the cinematic portrayal of Judaism. Whereas other series like Weeds and The West Wing have dealt excellently with the Judaism of their characters, this particular shout-out feels inappropriate, lacking, and, most of all, unnecessary.