Hollywood Jews

Despite the Jewish dominance of Hollywood, Jewish filmmakers were not always comfortable portraying Jewish themes on screen.

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Faced with this new freedom of expression, Jew­ish filmmakers had no direct tradition, no previous examples or models, to draw upon in creating a visual art filtered through their Jewish consciousness. Of course, one might question the extent to which they contemplated or even desired to fashion a film art that was somehow specifically Jewish, but nevertheless the directors turned to Jewish themes and characters to take advantage of the ethnic sensibility characteristic of contemporary American culture. In so doing, however, they faced an empty past, a cinematic lacuna they attempted to fill with models drawn from other, earlier Jewish forays into art and popular culture.

Reprinted with permission from American-Jewish Filmmakers: Traditions and Trends (University of Illinois Press).

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David Desser is the director of cinema studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and former editor of Cinema Journal.