Jews in the News: Lisa Kudrow, Steven Spielberg and Judith Light

Disney Movie and, Finally, a Disney Jewish Superhero, Ben Franklin, HBO Offerings

The Disney+ original film “Better Nate Than Ever” premieres on April 1. Nate, 13, is an unpopular Pittsburgh teen who fantasies that he will become a big Broadway star. His best friend, Libby, convinces him to go to New York and audition for a big Broadway musical. He lucks out when he runs into his Aunt Heidi (LISA KUDROW, 58), a ‘showbiz smart’ person who has long been estranged from Nate’s parents.

On April 4th and 5th most PBS stations will air a two-part biography of Benjamin Franklin (8-10 PM). The super-famous documentary maker Ken Burns directed the episodes. It is narrated by actor PETER COYOTE, 80.

I doubt that Burns (whose wife is Jewish) will even mention this—but I will—in case you come across the many anti-Semitic sites that say Franklin wrote a lengthy attack on Jews. Usually called the “Franklin Prophecy”, this "big lie" junk was actually written by a notorious anti-Semite in the 1930s. As many scholars have noted, Franklin (really) gave a small cash donation to a struggling Philadelphia synagogue. Not something an anti-Semite would do.

Moon Knight, a Marvel Comics character, is the title character of a five-episode Disney+ mini-series that began streaming on March 30. The Moon Knight character was introduced in 1975 and was a hit with readers. Moon Knight was co-created by DON PERLIN, now 92, the son of Jews who fled Russia in 1905.

Here's Moon Knight’s comic book “origin story”. He was born Marc Spector, the son of a rabbi who fled Europe in the 1930s. Spector experienced anti-Semitism as a child and as a young man. Spector served briefly in the Marines, became a mercenary, and was killed. But he was brought back to life (!) by the Egyptian moon god. This “god” turned Spector into “Moon Knight”, a superhero who “redeems his life of violence by protecting and avenging the innocent.” (It’s important to know that Spector suffers from dissociative identity order. He has other personalities “in his brain” and isn’t sure who he really is.)

There has been a big controversy in “comic book fan land”, and elsewhere, preceding the premiere of the Moon Knight TV series. Fans, Jewish or not, have been outraged by the way Disney, and other studios, have eliminated the Jewish origins of Marvel Comic characters when they appear in films or TV.  The site InsideMagic recently said [fans are anxious because] “Marvel Studios has erased the Jewish heritage of similar characters such as Wanda Maximoff/AKA the Scarlett Witch. “

This site, and others, also noted that Wanda, and other Jewish characters, were played by non-Jewish actors and that casting practice continued in “Moon Knight”. Oscar Isaac, a Hispanic actor who was raised an Evangelical Christian, plays Moon Knight in the Disney series.

Isaac has had a good run playing Jewish characters. He played the main Israeli agent in “Operation Eichmann (2017) and he played the Jewish husband in the HBO series “Scenes from a Marriage” (2021). This is fine----except when you remember the flack STEVEN SPIELBERG got for casting an actress of Columbian background to star as Maria, a Puerto Rican character, in “West Side Story”.

For weeks, nobody connected to the Disney series would say whether the Moon Knight character would remain Jewish.  Finally, on March 20, there was an answer from Mohammed Diab, the Egyptian director of three of the “Moon Knight episodes”. InsideMagic reports that in response a fan question whether “Oscar Isaac’s character would share the Jewish heritage of the comics version”, Diab tweeted, “Wait until the end of the show. You’ll be pleased.”

“When We Were Bullies”, an Oscar-nominated documentary, premiered on HBO on March 30. Director JAY ROSENBLATT interviews his 5th grade teacher about a brutal bullying incident. Also on HBO is the original series Julia”, about the life of famous chef and cook-book writer Julia Child. The first three episodes premiere on March 31. BEBE NEUWIRTH, 64, plays Avis Devoto, a great cook and a book editor who was a great friend of Ms. Child.

JUDITH LIGHT, 73, has a supporting role as BLANCHE KNOPF (1894-1966), the wife of Julia’s publisher, ALFRED KNOPF (1892-1984). The Knopfs were born into affluent New York Jewish families. They bonded over their love of books. They were a professional team, a rare thing in their day. Three years after Knopf books was founded (1915), Blanche was named a vice-president. She became president in 1957 (Alfred was made chairman). She was a top editor and she launched the careers of many famous writers.


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