It is common among teens to enjoy having representation in the media. Today it is even considered important. LGBTQ+ teens take refuge in watching shows like Sex Education, Young Royals, and Heartstopper… Pakistani teens celebrated after the release of Ms. Marvel, a show centered around Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teen. Without a doubt, representation in the media is important to teen mental health.
Similarly, when I, a Jewish teen, see other Jews in the media I get excited and am filled with joy. However, rarely am I met with a Jew that is more than just a caricature of what Hollywood views Jews as. When I was younger I took joy in the brief mention of some random character celebrating Hanukkah. Now that I am older, I have grown to resent those moments. I would see some character casually shown as Jewish with a joke about having eight presents, or about how Hanukkah is just the Jewish Christmas.
The lack of Jewish representation has left me and many other young Jews hungry for Jewish characters that are more than just a caricature or an empty shell to fill a diversity quota.
There are so many things that I could say on this topic, including the discussion of non-Jewish actors playing Jewish roles and how that may speak to negative stereotypes of Jewish ethnic features. However, I think that it is important to also talk about good Jewish representation instead of just the lack of it. The crumbs may be just that, crumbs, but they are some good crumbs.
For example, Moon Knight. Moon Knight was a Marvel show following Marc Spector. For the sake of not spoiling the show, that’s all the background I’ll give. Marc Spector is Jewish both in the comics and on screen. When I started watching Moon Knight I was concerned because of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s tendencies to erase Jewish characters. If you were wondering, Wanda Maximoff is a Jewish and Romani character in the comics, in the movies, she is neither of those things and actually chose to work for HYDRA, the Marvel version of Nazis. However, with Moon Knight, I was pleasantly surprised. In the first episode, there were multiple hints of Marc Spector being canonically Jewish and I ate those crumbs up. However, things got even better when Marc Spector was explicitly shown being Jewish in episode 5 which showed him sitting shiva.
I had never truly grasped how important representation was until that very moment. I had never seen a show where they had even briefly mentioned sitting shiva so to see it in something as mainstream as Marvel was amazing. When I watched the episode the loss of my uncle was still very recent and fresh. My uncle had loved all things comic book related and had passed that down to me. So when I saw Marc Spector, a superhero in Marvel comics sitting shiva, it brought a little light into my life. It showed that I had something in common with a superhero and that other Jews experienced what I had, even in the movies.
Representation in the media is so important for everyone. To have someone like you being shown in the mainstream can show teens that they are not alone. To show something in the mainstream is to normalize it and let others know that what they are going through is not a purely unique experience and there are other people who can relate.