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ADL partners with SF-based Common Sense Media to counter Jewish stereotypes in films

From the hook-nosed, money-hungry goblins of the Harry Potter films to the opinion-splitting prosthetic nose in the new Leonard Bernstein biopic, Jewish stereotypes are prevalent in Hollywood.

Pushing back against those tropes is the goal of the Media and Entertainment Institute, a new partnership between the ADL and Common Sense Media, the San Francisco–based nonprofit known for helping parents find age-appropriate content for their kids.

“When you think about the power that film and television and entertainment of all kinds have, we have to make a bigger effort to address those stereotypes and to make sure that Jews are portrayed in a diverse and nuanced way,” Jeremy Sherman, director of strategic initiatives at the Anti-Defamation League, told J..

As part of the new project, ADL will prepare lists of recommended films with input from Common Sense Media.

“One [list] is going to be around Jewish portrayals, Jewish heritage, and one will be around Holocaust education and Holocaust content,” Sheman said, adding that the recommended media should give viewers “a good sense of the Jewish people.”

Jill Murphy, Common Sense Media’s editor in chief, said in an email to J., “We’re thrilled to be supporting the ADL and their incredible efforts to help improve societal perceptions of Jewish people and understanding of antisemitism more broadly.”

The institute, which was announced in September at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, will also focus on research, with a study about tropes in media coming out in the next few weeks, Sherman said.

The institute also will come up with some best practice guidelines for the entertainment industry and Sherman says there are future plans for work on education and outreach. Moreover, it’ll give kudos.

“We want to uplift some of the great work that is happening in Hollywood and beyond on positive portrayals and storytelling — Jewish characters and Jewish stories of all different kinds,” Sherman said.

But wasn’t Hollywood, in large part, founded by Jews? How can it be that antisemitism is a problem there?

“Yeah, we get that question a lot,” Sherman said.

He explained that despite Hollywood’s history as a refuge for Jewish business people and artists, the modern-day entertainment industry isn’t perfect.

For example, a recent survey by Together Ending Need, a group that fights poverty in the Jewish community, found that poor and working-class Jews are underrepresented in media depictions relative to their prevalence in real life. The location for the announcement of the institute, the Academy Museum, was itself greeted with controversy at its launch for erasing the history of the significant role Jews played in creating the American film industry.

“Hollywood still has its issues with antisemitism,” Sherman said. “There’s still Jewish tropes and stereotypes embedded into a lot of storylines and characters.”

ADL previously partnered with Common Sense Media on the “Stop Hate for Profit” initiative, which launched in 2020 and called  on social media companies to stop making money off of hate speech, which they do by taking in advertising revenue on, for example, white supremacy posts.

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