Sisterhood Blog

Hebrew Heroine Deficit

By Sarah Seltzer

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To go along with controversial Jewish-revenge flick “Inglourious Basterds,” Newsweek’s Sarah Ball drew up a list of butt-kicking onscreen Jews including serious foes like the protagonists of “Munich” and “Defiance” and silly ones like “The Hebrew Hammer” and Zohan. It’s a cute list, but as Leah Berkenwald at Jewesses with Attitude points, out, all these Hebrew heroes have one thing in comon: They’re men. She writes:

Surprise, surprise, there are no Jewish women represented. At all. What’s going on here? Are there no films featuring kick-ass female Jewish characters? To be honest, I’m having trouble thinking of any.

The commenters at JWA had trouble coming up with an answer for her; although they mentioned real life heroic Jewish women, from Golda Meir and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to female Mossad agents, it is hard to find female counterparts to the male characters on the Newsweek list.

Sure, Natalie Portman and Rachel Weisz have played their share of action heroines, but none of those characters were markedly Jewish. As commenter Oksana pointed out [Spoiler Alert!] Basterds’ character Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent, photographed above), who’s lost her family and vengefully torches her own movie theater in order to kill all the Nazi officers inside, is one of the more badass, active Jewish women onscreen of late. “She’s better at this Jewish-vengeance business than the titular characters, and she’s an amateur, as it were,” writes Oksana.

I’d love to see more characters like Shosannna, perhaps some showing up in slightly less violent films. But it doesn’t look like a ton of other “butt-kicking” Jewesses are in the running for such roles. Instead, the buzzy film featuring Jewish ladies onscreen is “Black Swan,” which is going to feature a steamy same-sex hookup between Jewish thespians Portman and Mila Kunis, playing rival ballerinas. It’s unclear if their characters are going to be Jewish.

While their male fans are excited to see two pin-up worthy Jewish women in one film, and the film may be great (Director is Weisz’s husband, Darren Aronofsky), it’s my fantasy to see more specifically designated Jewish female characters on the big screen — characters that are strong and assertive without necessarily being moms, neurotic funny ladies or “exotic” seductresses.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rachel Weisz, Quentin Tarantino, Natalie Portman, Inglourious Basterds

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Comments
Jack Wed. Aug 26, 2009

It’s odd that you mention Rachel Weisz but dismiss her action roles as “none of [Weisz‘s] characters were markedly Jewish.” What about Tania Chernova in _Enemy at the Gates_? The Jewishness of Chervova is integral to the character: Chernova learned to shoot because her father wanted to make aliyah, she wants to be a sniper for the Soviets because the Germans rounded up and executed her parents with other Jews.

I also seem to recall the various movies about the Warsaw Ghetto and the partisans featuring Jewesses with guns* [and molotovs], but I may be romanticizing.

*A proposed genre, comparable to “Tough Jews” and “Jews with Swords.”

Libby Cone Fri. Aug 28, 2009

Two Jewish heroines who are known mainly to the avant-garde art world are Claude Cahun (Lucille Schwob) and Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe). Lesbians when it wasn't cool, Surrealists when it was subversive, they morphed into Resistance propagandists when the Germans occupied the Channel Island of Jersey, where they lived, for the duration of WWII. They wound up doing time on death row for their activities. Barbara Hammer made a great film, Lover Other http://vimeo.com/2910481, about them, but it's not Multiplex material. My own humble literary offering, War on the Margins http://www.amazon.co.uk/War-Margins-Libby-Cone/dp/0715638769/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1243869500&sr=8-1, in which they feature prominently, is doing decently in the UK, but they really deserve a big movie. I hope someone steps up to the plate.

Lynne Cohn Thu. Sep 3, 2009

Switching to TV, the most kick-ass Jewish character is Zeva David, the Israeli Mossad agent on NCIS. Hoping she comes back this year.




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