Jack Mendel
The Online Editor at the Jewish News

Gal Gadot – too white, but not white enough

Gal Gadot (Jewish News)
Gal Gadot (Jewish News)

The outrage over the casting of Gal Gadot as Cleopatra is a firm reminder, that Jews can never be ethnically pure enough for some.

Following the announcement that an Israeli actress was to play an ancient Egyptian princess, critics furiously typed away on social media and in column inches.

One very outraged Guardian columnist, Hanna Flint, issued various charges against Gadot’s casting, who she called an “Israeli actor with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage”, which has led to a debate in Hollywood about “whitewashing”.

Now I know what you’re thinking.

Gal Gadot is helping to whitewash Hollywood?

Her father is a sixth generation ‘Sabra’ [born in Israel], her mother’s family were from eastern Europe, where they were persecuted by Nazis, who didn’t consider them white enough.

And Cleopatra was a Macedonian Greek who likely had Syrian heritage, anyway.

In other words, she wasn’t north African, but from the Mediterranean, like Gadot.

The point is, what does it matter anyway?

Even if Cleopatra was Egyptian, it doesn’t mean only an Egyptian actress should play her.

The toxic precedent set, is that actors from a particular background should portray certain characters. Yet, in Flint’s own piece, she speaks about the strides in cultural representations in cinema, including that of British-Indian actor Dev Patel as David Copperfield.

She argues that it would have been a good opportunity to give exposure to a North African actresses – and that’s no doubt a salient point.

But saying Gadot shouldn’t get the role because she’s Israeli, or ‘Ashkenazi’, is nonsense.

It’s certainly better than the point made by Pakistani journalist Sameera Khan, who took to Twitter asking: “Which Hollywood dumbass thought it would be a good idea to cast an Israeli actress as Cleopatra (a very bland looking one) instead of a stunning Arab actress like Nadine Njeim?”

She continued: “shame on you, Gal Gadot. Your country steals Arab land & you’re stealing their movie roles.”

When Gal becomes Israel’s UN Ambassador, you can criticise the government when she gets a movie role. Until then, keep schtum Sameera.

Back to Flint, who must have done some serious limbering up before penning the rest of her piece, because the intellectual gymnastics she performs are quite impressive.

She accuses the movie industry of a “frustrating habit of whitewashing history” over Cleopatara, casting Elizabeth Taylor, shock-horror, another Jewish star, in the role previously.

Gadot “does tick the box for Middle Eastern and north African (MENA) representation”, which is nice of her to admit, “so she’s not as western a choice” as others, like Angelina Jolie, she says. But of course, it is all part of the “cultural ventriloquism” of other films like Aladdin, where a “bias towards light-skinned minorities who adhere to a western aesthetic”, is present.

She continues to paint Gadot in a light of ‘whitewashing’, saying her forthcoming appearance on ‘Death on the Nile “is yet another example of how cinema colonises foreign regions for its own white-centric purpose”.

While trying to cover her identity politics in the language of woke-ness, she just couldn’t resist a personal jibe at Gadot, just like Sameera Khan, accusing the Israeli Wonder Woman star having “proved herself that a “nobody” can become an A-lister when given the chance to play a massive role”, implying she is talentless, and got the role through other means.

Flint brands Gadot’s casting as a “missed opportunity”, because of course, Jews aren’t a minority to some. Why not just say what you really think, Hanna?

The attempt to box Gal Gadot in as being too white but not white enough, is exhausting to unpick.

Historically Jews were painted as poor disloyal foreigners, infiltrating from below by the right, and rich capitalist elites, pulling strings from above, by the left.

It’s clear for new enlightened internet class like Hanna, Jews are a bit of both.

Gal Gadot is too Israeli, too Western, too European, too Ashkenazi, but not as white, western or talented as the Hollywood elite.

Just wait until she hears the rumours that Sacha Baron Cohen is going to play Marc Anthony.

About the Author
Jack Mendel is the Online Editor at the Jewish News.
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