Jews in the News: Benh Zeitlin, Winona Ryder and David Burd

At the Movies: “Wendy” and “The Hunt”

In 2012, the low-budget indie film “Beasts of the Wild” was the surprise hit of the year. This almost mystical story about how a young girl survived a major Louisiana flood won many major awards and scored four Oscar nominations. BENH ZEITLIN, now 37, received nominations for best director and best adapted screenplay.  His second film, “Wendy,” is a wildly reimagined re-telling of the Peter Pan story. In Zeitlin’s version, Wendy is kidnapped and taken to a mysterious tropical island where no one grows old. Advance reviews are mostly good. As with “Beasts”, Zeitlin is highly praised for the other-world atmosphere he creates via photography and sets and criticized for uneven storytelling. Zeitlin directed “Wendy” and he wrote the screenplay with his sister, ELIZA ZEITLIN, 34ish (who also was the production designer). Their parents (father, Jewish; mother, Protestant) are both folklore experts and college professors. Benh had a bar mitzvah. (Opens Mar. 12 in most cities).

 “The Hunt”, which opens wide on Mar. 13, is loosely based on the famous short story "The Most Dangerous Game". The film follows 12 strangers who mysteriously wake up in a clearing. They do not know where they are or how they got there. They discover that they have been chosen to be hunted in a game devised by a group of elites. The cast includes Betty Gilpin, Hillary Swank, Emma Roberts, and IKE BARINHOLTZ, 43. It was directed by CRAIG ZOBEL, 44. It was co-written by DAMON LINDELOF, 44, the co-creator/writer of “Lost” and “The Leftovers”.

New Streaming/Cable Choices

“The Plot Against America” is a six-part HBO series that starts on Mar. 16. It’s based on the novel of the same name by the late PHILIP ROTH. The novel and series posit an alternative American history. Franklin Roosevelt is defeated in the 1940 presidential election by Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator who was, in real life, a xenophobic isolationist. Lindbergh turns the nation towards fascism, tinged with more than just a little anti-Semitism. The impact of Lindbergh’s policies is told via its effects on New Jersey working class Jewish family, called the Levins in the HBO series. The story is mostly told through the perspective of Philip Levin, a 10-year-old boy. The cast includes MORGAN SPECTOR, 39, as Herman, Philip’s father and WINONA RYDER, 48, as Evelyn, Philip’s aunt. “Plot” was co-created DAVID SIMON, 60 (“The Wire”) and he wrote or co-wrote four of the episodes.

On Mar. 2, the NY Times published a long profile of the unlikely career of DAVID BURD, 32, AKA rap star “Lil Dickey”.  A Jewish guy from Philly, he got good grades and went to work for an ad agency after college. However, he really wanted to be a comedian. He always had a talent for rapping and in 2011 he tapped into his bar mitzvah money ($6,000) and began making (self-financed) comedic rap videos. In 2013, he released his first rap video (entitled “Ex-Boyfriend”. It’s on Youtube and is quite risqué). The video went viral and got a million hits within 24 hours of posting. Burd told Jimmy Kimmel on Mar. 3, “That was the best day of my life.” Hit albums followed and now he has a semi-autobiographical TV series called “Dave” (began March 4 on FXX cable; also on Hulu).

An Ancient Alliance Renewed?

Perhaps you are like me---you enjoy modern stories that combine genetics and ancient history. Here’s one: for a couple of months now, a friend and I have been corresponding about the three “Semites” who were/are seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Three you say? Well, MICHAEL BLOOMBERG and BERNIE SANDERS are Jewish, and Jews are often labeled Semites because Hebrew (like Arabic) is a Semitic tongue. Well, Mayor Pete Buttigieg could also be called Semitic. His late father was a (Catholic) native of the island of Malta. The Maltese language is Semitic. The island was occupied by the Muslim Arabs from 870 to 1091 and a dialect of Arabic became Maltese. But there’s more: recent DNA tests of the Maltese show they are about 70% of European ancestry and about 30% of Middle Eastern/North African ancestry. It is now thought part of the non-European ancestry traces back to the Phoenicians, who colonized the island around 1000BCE. The Phoenicians, who spoke a Semitic language, occupied the coast of what is now Lebanon. They are favorably mentioned in the Torah and the Phoenician king, Hiram of Tyre, was a strong ally of King Solomon (around 1000BCE). Bloomberg and Buttigieg are now allied to help Joe Biden. 3,000 years later, the alliance revives!


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