In July of last year, Allison Josephs, known to many as “Jew in the City,” heard in passing that the Muslim Public Affairs Council had their own Hollywood bureau, which aims for proper representation of Muslims in mainstream media. Believing this was something unique to the Muslim community, Josephs touted MPAC’s impressive work on Instagram, and accidentally tagged the NAACP’s Hollywood bureau, which advocates for proper representation of communities of color in media. She then googled the Asian community and realized that they, and nearly every other minority community, had such a bureau. And then it dawned on her: Jews, another misrepresented minority, need a Hollywood bureau too.
So, right after Thanksgiving, Josephs got to work on the creation of Jew in the City’s Hollywood Bureau, incorporating a lot of the Orthodox advocacy work she is familiar with handling. “People like to think that Jews control Hollywood, but somehow, there are still plenty of poor reflections of Jews in the media and no framework to make things better. Something had to be done,” Josephs shared.
Josephs is no stranger to shutting down misrepresentation of Orthodox Jews on screen, and mentioned how last year, she had started a social media firestorm that led NBC to pull down an episode of “Nurses” with negative Jewish stereotypes. She also recalled the numerous interviews she had done between the releases of both “Unorthodox” and “My Unorthodox Life” on Netflix—and noted that many of the journalists she spoke to could not get the titles straight. “There are so many shows in this genre,” Josephs explained. “Maybe when you can’t tell the difference between which ‘Unorthodox’ show is which, the market is oversaturated.”
Reducing the saturation of these negative portrayals of Orthodoxy is one of the many goals of JITC’s Hollywood Bureau, and Josephs shared that she has already flagged some shows in production to network executives. In turn, she hopes that networks will seek to replace these shows with positive depictions of Orthodox Jews, to “show the world how we see ourselves.”
The ball is already rolling for the bureau, and Josephs has been called in by diversity leaders at major networks such as NBC, CBS and ABC/Disney. “They’re asking us to come on as consultants and train the showrunners,” she said.
To celebrate the launch of the JITC Hollywood Bureau, Josephs arranged to host a premiere of the movie “Rock Camp: The Movie” on Monday, March 21. “Rock Camp,” which was released on Amazon Prime and Apple TV last year but never had a New York premiere thanks to COVID, follows the story of several different glam-rock stars of the 1980s and their manager, David Fishof. As it happens, Fishof is an Orthodox Jew—and is quite proud of it. Josephs explained that they chose to showcase “Rock Camp,” and make it the Bureau’s very first JITC Media Award recipient, as it is one of the first mainstream movies to authentically represent Orthodoxy. “[Fishof] is not some pedantic rabbi or some cartoonish chasid. He’s just himself, and proudly frum,” she said.
“When the producers first began filming the movie, Fishof didn’t care to be in it,” Josephs shared. “The movie wasn’t working without him, so he agreed to be in it on two conditions…first, that he could wear his yarmulke, and second, that he could talk about his Orthodox background and being frum. The producers agreed, and while his Orthodoxy is not a main feature of the film, he is out and about with it.”
Josephs continued that the authenticity of “Rock Camp” lies within its lack of exaggerated Jewish motifs and props. “I find that so often what doesn’t work about the portrayal of Orthodox Jews is that they have to have some uniquely Jewish thing… sometimes we just operate in the world with Jewish values and we’re not always touching a Jewish prop.”
The movie premiere and award ceremony will also serve as a fundraiser for the launch of the JITC Hollywood Bureau. Among other things, Josephs is hoping to hire a director for the bureau so that it can take on “a life of its own” and be readily available to provide diversity training and monitor media for accurate representation. Josephs is also hoping to raise funds for a minority impact study, which she explained is commonplace in similar bureaus. “You have to prove that the recommendations [from the bureau] are needed, and you have to prove that bad representation leads to negative feelings,” she shared.
In the long run, Josephs knows that the JITC Hollywood Bureau will have a lasting impact on the global perception of Jews. “So much of our worldview is attributed to what we see in the media. And it works both ways…when non-Jews see negative portrayals of us, it contributes to antisemitism; and when Jews see negative portayals, it causes us to back away and lose our pride. Shifting the perception of Jews in the media will ultimately unify us as a people.”
To attend the launch of the JITC Hollywood Bureau, tickets may be purchased at: https://jitc.zohobackstage.com/JITCHollywoodBureauLaunch.