Helen Mirren responds to 'Jewface' criticism following recent role in biopic

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By stefan armitage

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Dame Helen Mirren has addressed the controversy surrounding her portrayal of Golda Meir - Israel's former Prime Minister - in the 2023 biopic Golda.

The esteemed English actress, 78, faced backlash for assuming the role despite not being Jewish - with many on social media accusing the star of "Jewface". This term - which dates back to the 1800s - refers to the stereotypical or inauthentic portrayals of Jewish people, often by a non-Jewish person. This can include someone affecting a Yiddish accent or wearing facial prosthetics to give the appearance of stereotypical Jewish features.

However, Mirren has stood by her decision to take the role, emphasizing her pride in her work in the biographical drama.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Mirren acknowledged the ongoing debate surrounding her casting, stating: "I think the discussion has to be had and there are arguments on both sides. I've been a Mossad agent [in the 2010 movie The Debt]. You don't get much more Jewish than that!"

Helen Mirren.Credit: Leon Bennett / Getty

In Golda, Mirren underwent a transformation to embody the late Israeli PM, donning a grey wig and prosthetic nose to authentically portray Meir's appearance. Reflecting on her performance, Mirren admitted: "I felt like her, honestly. You're laying yourself open to profound criticism. You could blow it terribly."

Drawing from her own memories of Meir's tenure as Israel's leader from 1969 to 1974, Mirren delved deep into her character's psyche to deliver an authentic portrayal. "It was the first time a woman had led a country. And I was absolutely excited, blown away. It was like a miracle. It was fantastic," she shared.

Screenshot 2024-04-27 at 16.31.51.jpgMirren in Golda. Credit: Bleecker Street, Vertical

Addressing concerns about her portrayal, Mirren explained her approach, stating: "I can't be as she is. She was best at being her. Of course, she was still alive. I'm an artist and doing a portrait. It's my artistic understanding of this person. I think that relaxed me as well with Golda."

The controversy over Mirren's casting arose immediately upon the movie's release, prompting discussions about the appropriateness of non-Jewish actors portraying Jewish characters. However, Mirren, who has previously portrayed Jewish characters in films like Woman in Gold and The Debt, expressed her willingness to take on the role and even considered her own desire to take a DNA test to confirm whether or not she has any Jewish ancestry.

Despite the scrutiny, director Guy Nattiv stood by Mirren's casting, affirming his choice to cast her as Golda Meir. Mirren disclosed: "I did tell Guy Nattiv, the Israeli Jewish director, that I'm not Jewish, in case he thought I was. I said, 'If that's an issue, I'll step away, no problem.' But he said, 'No, it's not an issue. I want you to play Golda.' And off we went."

This is far from the first time Hollywood has been met with backlash over cast a non-Jewish actor as a Jewish person.

Last year, Bradley Cooper was met with severe criticism after donning a prosthetic nose to portray American composer Leonard Bernstein.


Cooper finally addressed the controversy in November, saying: "I wasn't expecting [the backlash to the first trailer] to happen. I feel sorry that I hurt some people's feelings."

However, Cooper was defended by Bernstein's three children, who assured fans that the actor had spoke to them about every element of his performance in the movie.

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Helen Mirren responds to 'Jewface' criticism following recent role in biopic

vt-author-image

By stefan armitage

Article saved!Article saved!

Dame Helen Mirren has addressed the controversy surrounding her portrayal of Golda Meir - Israel's former Prime Minister - in the 2023 biopic Golda.

The esteemed English actress, 78, faced backlash for assuming the role despite not being Jewish - with many on social media accusing the star of "Jewface". This term - which dates back to the 1800s - refers to the stereotypical or inauthentic portrayals of Jewish people, often by a non-Jewish person. This can include someone affecting a Yiddish accent or wearing facial prosthetics to give the appearance of stereotypical Jewish features.

However, Mirren has stood by her decision to take the role, emphasizing her pride in her work in the biographical drama.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Mirren acknowledged the ongoing debate surrounding her casting, stating: "I think the discussion has to be had and there are arguments on both sides. I've been a Mossad agent [in the 2010 movie The Debt]. You don't get much more Jewish than that!"

Helen Mirren.Credit: Leon Bennett / Getty

In Golda, Mirren underwent a transformation to embody the late Israeli PM, donning a grey wig and prosthetic nose to authentically portray Meir's appearance. Reflecting on her performance, Mirren admitted: "I felt like her, honestly. You're laying yourself open to profound criticism. You could blow it terribly."

Drawing from her own memories of Meir's tenure as Israel's leader from 1969 to 1974, Mirren delved deep into her character's psyche to deliver an authentic portrayal. "It was the first time a woman had led a country. And I was absolutely excited, blown away. It was like a miracle. It was fantastic," she shared.

Screenshot 2024-04-27 at 16.31.51.jpgMirren in Golda. Credit: Bleecker Street, Vertical

Addressing concerns about her portrayal, Mirren explained her approach, stating: "I can't be as she is. She was best at being her. Of course, she was still alive. I'm an artist and doing a portrait. It's my artistic understanding of this person. I think that relaxed me as well with Golda."

The controversy over Mirren's casting arose immediately upon the movie's release, prompting discussions about the appropriateness of non-Jewish actors portraying Jewish characters. However, Mirren, who has previously portrayed Jewish characters in films like Woman in Gold and The Debt, expressed her willingness to take on the role and even considered her own desire to take a DNA test to confirm whether or not she has any Jewish ancestry.

Despite the scrutiny, director Guy Nattiv stood by Mirren's casting, affirming his choice to cast her as Golda Meir. Mirren disclosed: "I did tell Guy Nattiv, the Israeli Jewish director, that I'm not Jewish, in case he thought I was. I said, 'If that's an issue, I'll step away, no problem.' But he said, 'No, it's not an issue. I want you to play Golda.' And off we went."

This is far from the first time Hollywood has been met with backlash over cast a non-Jewish actor as a Jewish person.

Last year, Bradley Cooper was met with severe criticism after donning a prosthetic nose to portray American composer Leonard Bernstein.


Cooper finally addressed the controversy in November, saying: "I wasn't expecting [the backlash to the first trailer] to happen. I feel sorry that I hurt some people's feelings."

However, Cooper was defended by Bernstein's three children, who assured fans that the actor had spoke to them about every element of his performance in the movie.

Featured image credit: