Netflix Film ‘You People’ Accused of ‘Erasing the Jewish Perspective’ in Its ‘Disappointing’ Portrayal of Jews
by Shiryn Ghermezian
The new film You People that debuted on Netflix last week is being accused of perpetuating anti-Jewish stereotypes and conspiracy theories as well as antisemitism in its portrayal of the Jewish community.
In the Kenya Barris–directed movie, released on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jewish actor Jonah Hill stars as Ezra Cohen, a Jewish man who gets in a romantic relationship with Amira Mohammed, a Black Muslim woman played by actress Lauren London, whose father is Jewish. They decide to get married but their relationship is put to the test because of their families contrasting cultures and the many stereotypical opinions they have about each other.
The film was also co-written and co-produced by Hill. It stars Eddie Murphy and Nia Long as Black Muslim parents, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and David Duchovny as Hill’s Jewish parents.
“In You People, the ‘Jew’ is presented as ‘rich’ & ‘white,’ erasing the experiences of Black, Asian, Persian, Mizrahi, Sephardic, and the millions of Jews who are not remotely ‘rich.’ Its lame stereotypes about Jews will fuel #antisemitism,” Daniel Koren, executive director of Hasbara Canada, wrote on Twitter.
British comedian David Baddiel, who is the author of Jews Don’t Count, tweeted last week that You People is a “Jews Don’t Count fest.” He said, “The Jewish family are positioned as white, privileged and racist. The Black family just have a stern dad. At the end there’s much Jewish apologizing for racism. None for antisemitism. That word never appears.”
In one scene in the film, Murphy’s Muslim character says, “I don’t turn in the news everyday and see people in yarmulkes getting shot by police because they was out minding their business.” David Bashevkin, the director of education for the Jewish youth group NCSY, said that is completely false and “very disappointing” to see in the movie.
He tweeted: “People in Yarmulkes who are minding their business are constantly targeted w violence. Maybe not by police. But they are targeted … the scene’s dialogue framed Jewish targeted oppression as something of the past while only Black oppression is ongoing. And the movie never corrects that premise.”
The film’s Muslim family are also devotees of Nation of Islam leader and notorious antisemite Louis Farrakhan, who has a history of making derogatory comments about Jews and questioning the Holocaust. Other issues that Jewish supporters on social media have had with the film is its suggestion that Jews majorly profited from slavery in the US and its Holocaust jokes. When Hill’s Jewish character buys his fiancee a ring with a small diamond, he decides to tell her it once belonged to his grandmother and is from the Holocaust, so she will not question its size.
Allison Josephs, the founder and executive director of the non-profit Jew in the City, talked on NewsNation on Thursday about the film’s “problematic” depiction of Jews and how “the premise of the movie is that everybody loves Black culture … and everyone in the film hates Jewish culture.” She specifically addressed the movie’s opening scene — Yom Kippur prayer services attended by Hill and his family — where “everybody is a pervert, and super off and weird,” she said.
“You see rich Jews, Jews guilting people, and that’s just kind of the cheap shots,” she added.
“Where it gets dangerous is when Farrakhan-esque tropes and conspiracy theories get added in. Like Jews profited off the slave trade in some sort of outnumbered way. [Or] this accusation that Jews were professionals all the way back … No, Jews came here running from Nazis, running from being exiled in the Middle East, penniless, facing every type of persecution. There was segregation in this country. My father went to a pool that said no Blacks, no dogs, no Jews allowed.”
She accused the film of “completely erasing” Jewish history and the “Jewish perspective.” She said that because it was co-created by Hill, who is Jewish himself, people might believe that gives the film some leeway to make jokes about Jews.
However, she explained: “The Nazis used propaganda to shift people’s perspective about the Jewish community and things that start off as funny jokes and ‘haha, can’t you just take a joke and have humor’ — when you slip conspiracy theories; when you erase a person’s identity; when there’s persecution in the past and present, and you replace that with whiteness and privilege and wealth when the story is so much more complicated, people have no idea what we’re facing right now.”