Art Explores Jewish Identity in Hollywood: Few Entertainers Flaunt Background

By Billingsley, K. L. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 4, 1997 | Go to article overview

Art Explores Jewish Identity in Hollywood: Few Entertainers Flaunt Background


Billingsley, K. L., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


LOS ANGELES - A year ago, actor Marlon Brando created a firestorm by accusing Jewish entertainment bosses of exploiting all ethnic stereotypes but their own.

Now a provocative art exhibit takes up precisely that question in this city of identity politics and culture, where ethnic friction can erupt into riot.

"Too Jewish? Challenging Traditional Stereotypes" at the University of California at Los Angeles' Armand Hammer Museum contends that to draw attention to a Jewish background is to present oneself in an unappealing manner.

"But what attributes are too Jewish?" the show asks. "And who labels or defines them? How are Jews represented in media, popular culture and art?"

Museums and galleries, the show says, have reversed a long history of discrimination against art about or by blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Asian-Americans. In this context some Jewish artists are asking where they fit in.

"People said I was too Jewish, and I even suffered prejudice from Jews themselves," reads a script from comedian Jackie Mason.

"Never have we American Jews thought, let alone asserted, `I am beautiful. I come from a beautiful race,' " adds a label from playwright and screenwriter David Mamet.

"I'll be curious to see the response," said New York-based Ken Aptekar, known for overlaying famous 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings with the words "Albert used to be Abraham" and "Goldfinch used to be Goldfarb." Mr. Aptekar is one of 23 artists whose work is showcased in "Too Jewish?"

"Those in `the industry' have a stake in concealing Jewishness," he said, referring to the entertainment industry. "This show could touch them."

He is pleased the show does not dwell on the "victim politics" characteristic of so many shows in the art world. Instead, he said in an interview, he would like to see other shows "break down the universality" of whites and openly celebrate ethnic traits. While some works in "Too Jewish?" blur the distinctions between the secular and religious spheres, others treat Judaism as a source of both inspiration and contention.

Hollywood's Jewish roots have been written about as recently as last summer, when Moment, a Jewish monthly, devoted a lengthy article to the topic.

In 1995, Entertainment Weekly reported that Jewish characters are practically nonexistent in Hollywood movies, appearing less frequently than any other minority. …

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