Well, would you look at that—a couple of b’nei mitzvah are set to star in FX on Hulu’s Fleishman Is in Trouble. Trade publications revealed Thursday that the highly-anticipated adaptation’s titular role, a nebbish doctor facing unprecedented sexual freedom, will be played by Jesse Eisenberg. News of his casting came one day after the trades announced that the show’s other lead, journalist Libby Epstein, will be played by Lizzy Caplan.
Much like the characters they’ll be playing—and Fleishman executive producer Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who also wrote the exceedingly Semitic novel on which the series is based—Eisenberg and Caplan are Jewish. This should not be a big deal. But it feels like one, because their casting comes on the heels of a conversation that’s lately been dominating certain niche (read: Jewish) corners of the internet—the strange tendency Hollywood projects have of casting non-Jewish actors, and particularly non-Jewish women, to play Jewish characters marked and molded by their religious and ethnic identity.
“If there is role that’s a Jewish woman, which is rare as it is,” Sarah Silverman told Howard Stern last year, “if that role is a Jewish woman, but she is courageous, or she deserves love, or has bravery, or is altruistic in any way, she’s played by a non-Jew.” Think Rachel Brosnahan as Midge on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, or Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex.
The debate kicked into high gear (high schmear?) last month, when word broke that Kathryn Hahn—who was raised Catholic, but frequently plays Jewish women on shows like Transparent and the new Apple TV+ series The Shrink Next Door—would star as trailblazing Member of the Tribe Joan Rivers in a Showtime limited series called The Comeback Girl. “She’s a brilliant actor and… she’s going to be amazing,” Silverman said on her podcast after the casting was announced. Still, the comedian added, the announcement rankled her: “In a time when the importance of representation is seen as so essential, and so front and center, why does ours constantly get breached, even, today in the thick of it? … None of these actresses are doing anything wrong but, collectively, it’s fucked up.”
A few weeks after Silverman recorded that podcast, Hahn’s Joan Rivers project died on the vine—apparently due to issues with acquiring Rivers’ life rights. Fleishman, however, seems to be moving full steam ahead, and avoiding representational pitfalls in the process. (Though casting for Fleishman’s estranged, equally Jewish wife Rachel has yet to be announced.) Is it too early to call this a Hanukkah miracle?
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