It’s not often that we see our cultures represented together in buzzy movies, especially not ones set in Los Angeles, the city we love so much, and with the comedy king Eddie Murphy in the cast, and we were excited about the possibility of seeing ourselves reflected in the story of blended Black and Jewish families.
Unfortunately, at the expense of comedy greats including Murphy, Jonah Hill, Deon Cole, Elliot Gould and Julia Louis Dreyfus (with cameos by so many others!), the movie ended up being a painful reminder of how our family — made up of Mexican and Black Jews with Ashkenazi roots — so often must explain and justify our existence in Jewish and Black spaces.
The movie starts off with Jonah Hill’s character very comfortably recording his podcast about “the culture” (ostensibly, hip-hop culture?) with his Black, queer best friend, seeming to set the stage for the progressive coolness that will later allow him to date someone who is not “square” and potentially Black. Hill’s character loves rap music, sneaker culture and Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, and he knows not to say the full title of that song from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch The Throne” album.
Yet we find him in scenarios that time and again have him playing into uncomfortable tropes — like saying “our boy” when referring to Malcolm X — as he quickly and nervously falls into defining Black culture at its most reductionist form. It’s no surprise then, that the film goes on to portray Blackness as a monolithic, one-dimensional stereotype.
It doesn’t get any better when we see Hill’s character in a Jewish space: High Holiday services at the Skirball Cultural Center, here serving as a synagogue. There and throughout the movie, Jews are portrayed as white and uncool — sometimes aggressively so, almost as if the writers didn’t trust the audience to know this family is Jewish if not for the mom complaining about tattoos and trying to set up her son with a highly educated daughter of a friend.
My husband and I have been to the Skirball Center on many occasions, one of them being a wedding for two supremely cool Jews of color. But you would never know from the movie that such an event could ever take place, or even that Jews of color exist in Los Angeles — even though, ironically, the actor playing Jonah Hill’s eventual love interest is Black and identifies as half-Jewish. Instead, in creating the world for “You People,” the writers continue a dated tradition of movies that overly simplify the worlds they depict based on racial binaries.
This flattened view of the world is especially lamentable because the rom-com genre has at its fingertips the easiest blueprint: All families are ridiculous and oftentimes the blending of two families even more so. Within my family alone, there are several different cultures that consistently push against each other in humorous ways. There’s “nerd culture,” “comic book culture,” “skate culture,” “food culture.” Even in my culturally blended family, where my Mexican immigrant parents regularly share meals with my Black mother-in-law, the resulting humor has never been about racial differences. In a story where the message is that we can all get along, we don’t need the punchline to be about race.
“You People” could have told a story in which Jonah Hill’s character actually subverts the standard narrative, maybe one in which his character realizes how easy it is to fetishize Blackness and through experiences with his father-in-law comes to find the richness and fullness of Black culture that can even be expanded by his own Jewish background when blending his family with his fiancée’s. Or a movie in which a member of the Nation of Islam tries to openly accept a Jewish son-in-law and, rather than using Louis Farrakhan as an awkwardly divisive plot point, we see instead a Muslim Eddie Murphy try to find ways to connect with modern day hip-hop culture. Either option would allow the audience to see the layers in these characters that we are so often erased from narratives about Jewishness or Blackness.
Instead the writers opted for the easiest avenue: comedy based on persistent racial “othering.” But the differences shown are no longer based on any actual truth. They are based on beliefs we have been told to keep repeating in an effort to keep the agenda of white supremacy intact. The writers are depicting worn-out “differences” that don’t represent an authentic Jewish or authentic Black experience. Presenting any cultural experience as the “authentic” one is just another way of saying stereotypes are true — and that’s not funny at all.
Several years ago, my family participated in Ava Duvernay’s life-swap show in which we traded homes and experiences with a family of white Mormons. Our goal at the time was to show examples of coexistence and to demonstrate how contemporary identities are multilayered. But we also hoped that the experience would help us find greater acceptance as Jews of color, which still feels generally elusive. “You People” underscored for us why.
At one point during the life-swap, my husband said to me, “Listen, when you’re Black and Jewish, and everything hurts, laughter is the best medicine.” But laughter doesn’t come easily when the jokes only make sense if you don’t exist.
Sure, there were a few chuckles in my house during “You People.” The comedian Mike Epps was funny as he always is, and I laughed when Jonah Hill showed up to his date in a tie-dye sweatsuit, in a very L.A. move. But for nearly two hours, all I could think about was how “You People” feels like a movie for folks who are clinging to stereotypes because it helps them feel comfortable with their own cultural identities, which once were dominant but now must share real estate with others that are equally authentic. By confining the definition of culture to a singular idea of “race” this movie prevents an important conversation from moving forward. And that means my family, and so many other Jewish families, are once again left behind.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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