Mil­len­ni­al Jew­ish Stars: Nav­i­gat­ing Racial Anti­semitism, Mas­culin­i­ty, and White Supremacy

  • Review
By – July 16, 2024

In Mil­len­ni­al Jew­ish Stars, post­doc­tor­al fel­low Jonathan Branf­man exam­ines the dif­fer­ent screen per­sonas cul­ti­vat­ed by six mil­len­ni­al Jew­ish stars: Drake, Lil Dicky, Abbi Jacob­son and Ilana Glaz­er, Seth Rogen, and Zac Efron. Each chap­ter ana­lyzes a star’s par­tic­u­lar fram­ing of their Jew­ish­ness and digs into the cul­tur­al impli­ca­tions of that fram­ing. Drake has cre­at­ed a per­sona that runs counter to the stereo­types of the Jew­ish man, which Branf­man calls detach­able Judaism.” Lil Dicky (aka David Burd) leans into those very stereo­types in what the author refers to as vic­ar­i­ous Jew­face.” Jacob­son and Glazer’s fem­i­nist per­sonas exem­pli­fy Jew­ess­face.” And Seth Rogen and Zac Efron have tak­en on the oppos­ing per­sonas of Beta Male” and Goy­face.”

Branf­man folds into these descrip­tions the broad­er cul­tur­al under­stand­ings — and mis­un­der­stand­ings — of Judaism as an eth­nic­i­ty, and of what he calls racial anti­semitism.” Each per­sona is built on stereo­types of the Jew­ish mind and body, stereo­types that descend from at least eight cen­turies of reli­gious, artis­tic, and racial stigmas … ”

The book occa­sion­al­ly sit­u­ates the dis­cus­sion with­in cur­rent events, such as Whoopi Goldberg’s now infa­mous com­ments that mis­rep­re­sent­ed the eth­nic aspect of Judaism. It also places the dis­cus­sion with­in inter­sec­tion­al stud­ies, where it is nor­mal­ly ignored: “ … anti­semitism often goes unnamed in fem­i­nist, queer, and crit­i­cal race the­o­ry: these fields often con­flate Jews with white gen­tiles or men­tion Jews only as oppres­sive col­o­niz­ers in Israel-and-Palestine.”

While the author attrib­ut­es these per­sonas to the stars them­selves, there’s lit­tle dis­cus­sion about the extent to which writ­ers, pro­duc­ers, direc­tors, and/​or agents play a role in that char­ac­ter devel­op­ment. But the book’s aim is to bet­ter equip read­ers, includ­ing schol­ars and activists, to under­stand the role of Judaism in broad­er dis­cus­sions of race — and for the most part, it suc­ceeds in that goal.

This is a schol­ar­ly book on an acces­si­ble top­ic. While some of the lan­guage is dense, Branfman’s work helps us under­stand how these stars curate their screen per­sonas in align­ment with — or in oppo­si­tion to — age-old Jew­ish stereo­types, as well as what the per­sis­tence of those stereo­types tells us about our under­stand­ing of race.

Discussion Questions