There is an intricate, long, and rich history of Jewish presence in Hollywood, from executives to producers to directors to screenwriters to performers. It starts with the Jewish moguls who were at the helm of most major studios in the 1920s and 30s and tried to separate as much as possible from their Jewish heritage and past. This preponderance of Jews prompted an anti-Semitic response in the American entertainment scene which could hardly be ignored. The result was an overt timidity in the representation of Jews and Jewish topics on screen, with some Jewish actors perceived as “too Jewish” for the general taste. The changes in the perception of identity in the 1960s, marked by culture wars and the Civil Rights movement, on the one hand, and the flourishing of American Jewish literature and the pride many American Jews took in Israel’s triumph in the Six-Day War of 1967, on the other, enabled a much more open and unabashed embrace of Jewishness in Hollywood. Consequently, the late 1960s usher in the New Jewish Wave, when the issues of Jewish identity and experience start to dominate the screen and are defined by such auteurs as Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Sidney Lumet, and Paul Mazursky, and such actors as Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Richard Dreyfuss, Eliot Gould, George Seagal, and Woody Allen throughout the 1970s and 80s. The Jewish representation grows in the 1990s and 2010s with such directors as the Coen brothers, Darren Aronofsky, David Cronenberg, David Mamet, Jonathan Glazer, Stephen Spielberg, and the Safdie brothers.
Eric Michael Mazur
Religion intersects with film not only in film content, but also in the production and experience of film. From the earliest period, religious attitudes have shaped how religious individuals and communities have approached filmmaking as way to present temptation or salvation to the masses. Individual religious communities have produced their own films or have sought to monitor those that have been mass produced. To avoid conflict, filmmakers voluntarily agreed to self-monitoring, which had the effect of strongly shaping how religious figures and issues were presented. The demise of this system of self-regulation reintroduced conflict over film content as it expanded the ways in which religious figures and issues were presented, but it also shifted attention away from the religious identity of the filmmakers. Built on a foundation of “reading” symbolism in “art” films, and drawing from various forms of myth—the savior, the end of the world, and others—audiences became more comfortable finding in films religious symbolism that was not specifically associated with a specific religious community. Shifts in American religious demographics due to immigration, combined with the advent of the videocassette and the expansion of global capitalism, broadened (and improved) the representation of non-Christian religious themes and issues, and has resulted in the narrative use of non-Christian myths. Experimentation with sound and image has broadened the religious aspect of the film experience and made it possible for the viewing of film to replicate for some a religious experience. Others have broadened the film-viewing experience into a religious system. While traditional film continues to present traditional religions in traditional ways, technology has radically individualized audio-visual production, delivery, and experience, making film, like religion, and increasingly individualized phenomenon.