British Actress Tracy-Ann Oberman Was Told She Didn’t ‘Look Enough Like Anne Frank’ to Take on Jewish Roles
Jewish British actress Tracy-Ann Oberman talked about facing antisemitism in the entertainment industry in a recent interview with Britain’s i newspaper.
Oberman, 54, was raised in a Jewish home in Stanmore, north London. She said she knew from a young age that she wanted to be an actress but that her drama school principal recommended changing her last name, as she didn’t “look enough like Anne Frank” to play Jewish roles.
Oberman added, “Contemporaries of mine, like Rebecca Front and Samantha Spiro, we were all pretty much told, ‘Try and keep your Jewish heritage out of the way because casting directors will see you differently.’”
She also said that at her 1995 audition for the BBC production of “Pride and Prejudice,” which ultimately starred Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, she remembers being told, ‘That was a lovely reading, but nobody looked like you during Jane Austen’s times.'”
Oberman contemplated changing her last name to Denham or Smith but “then I just thought, ‘Oh, f*** it’, which I think has kind of been me all the way along, which is, this is what I am, take it or leave it.”
Watching actor friends embrace their heritage also changed her perspective on the matter, she told the publication: “It made me suddenly feel that it was okay to be Jewish and British, but it wasn’t my defining characteristic as an actress.”
In 2019, Oberman and Rachel Riley, the Jewish host of the British television show “Countdown,” were prepared to take legal action regarding the verbal abuse they received on Twitter for criticizing antisemitism in the Labour party, which Oberman left in 2016. She has not yet rejoined the political party, and said, “I’m waiting. I think that Labour has a lot of problems to sort out not just on antisemitism, I think it has to work out what it is and what it wants to attract.”
She further talked about her “accidental activism” against antisemitism by saying, “I think it’s very telling that along with [comedian] David Baddiel and Rachel Riley and a number of others, I ended up becoming the voice, the public face of talking about it, rather than any politicians.”