Casting of Dame Helen Mirren as Israeli PM Golda Meir sparks 'Jewface' row

Casting of Dame Helen Mirren as Israeli PM Golda Meir sparks 'Jewface' row
3 min read
05 January, 2022
Dame Maureen Lipman has criticised the casting of Dame Helen Mirren as Israeli's fourth prime minister Golda Meir, igniting a row on social media over the casting of non-Jews in Jewish roles - dubbed 'Jewface' by critics.
Dame Helen Mirren has yet to respond to Lipman's comments [Getty]

Dame Maureen Lipman has criticised the casting of actress Dame Helen Mirren as Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in the film Golda because she is not Jewish

The British actress, 75, said she was uncomfortable with Mirren playing the Israeli PM, in the latest row over non-Jews playing Jewish figures or characters - a practice labelled as "Jewface" by critics. 

In an advert for the film, set during the October War in 1973, Mirren, 76, is seen in prosthetic make-up as Israel's first female prime minister from 1969 to 1974. 

"The Jewishness of the character is so integral," Lipman told the Jewish Chronicle. 

"I'm sure she will be marvellous but it would never be allowed for Ben Kingsley to play Nelson Mandela. You just couldn't even go there. Perhaps you need to have some sort of panel of people who say this is not acceptable."

The term "Jewface" came to prominence in 2019 when more than 20 Jewish actors and playwrights, including Lipman, signed an open letter criticising the West End musical Falsettos for casting non-Jewish actors in a play about a Jewish family. 

The letter accused the play's producers of showing "a startling lack of cultural sensitivity". 

Last month, British actress Tamsin Greig said she "probably shouldn't" have played a Jewish mother in Channel 4's hit show Friday Night Dinner because she is a practising Christian.

Not everyone, however, agrees with Lipman's comments. Rabbi Jonathan Romain wrote on Twitter Wednesday: "You don't have to be Jewish to play a Jew." 

Others have also taken to Twitter to slam Lipman's rebuke of Mirren. 

"I adore Maureen Lipman but she couldn't be more wrong on this," said Stephen Pollard, former editor of the Jewish Chronicle, on social media. 

"The logic of her position is that the only character any actor can play is themselves," he said. 

Mirren, who has previously played Jewish characters, did not comment on the criticism. 

She has called Meir a "formidable, intransigent and powerful leader. 

"It is a great challenge to portray her at the most difficult moment of her extraordinary life. I only hope I do her justice!"

The Oscar-winning actress said she "wouldn’t be surprised" if she had Jewish roots, and that she is a "believer" in Israel.