The New Jewess: A Rising Generation of Actresses Overturns Old Tropes

Movie audiences can now see Jewishness in a slate of actresses that includes Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, Mélanie Laurent, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Rachel Weisz - each as diverse in temperament and talent as the next.

Danielle Berrin, jewishjournal.com
Danielle Berrin, jewishjournal.com

For the first time in movie history, a disproportionate number of Hollywood’s most desirable onscreen actresses are members of the tribe. And their experience as openly Jewish in Hollywood speaks to an evolving acceptance of Jewishness in an industry that, from its inception, was peopled by Jews who changed their names, if not their visages, to hide their heritage. Call it a Jewish “coming out,” because far from being invisible, this generation makes up a major presence in movies and magazines, serving as a group of cultural iconoclasts who could, perhaps, redefine the image of Jewishness in the 21st century.

Natalie Portman arrives at the 83rd Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, Feb. 27, 2011.Credit: AP

Never mind the classically annoying Fran Drescher image - with the frizzy brown hair and shrill, nasal voice - American movie audiences can now see Jewishness in a sultry slate of actresses that includes Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, Mélanie Laurent, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Rachel Weisz - women considered exotic, erotic and beautiful, each one as diverse in temperament and talent as the next.

This summer, an onslaught of self-assured Jewish women can be seen on film and TV: The Russian transplant Kunis stars as an energetic and persuasive headhunter who gets Justin Timberlake to fall in love with her after they’ve had sex (many times) in the self-deprecatingly self-conscious rom-com “Friends With Benefits.” French actress Laurent, last seen burning down a Paris theater filled with Nazis in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” plays a shy, introverted actress in “Beginners” opposite Ewan McGregor. And the smoldering Sephardic Chriqui is reprising her role as the fiercely independent Sloan, arguably the most multidimensional of female characters on HBO’s “Entourage.”

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