Jewish film and television is a highly dynamic niche with its own specific histories, identities, agents, productions, production contexts, industries, and festivals. Reflecting this dynamism, university film and media courses and programs, adult education programs, and film festivals related to the field have rapidly expanded over the last few decades. There are many potential approaches to its systematic study that have not yet been explored, nurtured, or consolidated. In this introductory essay, we aim to provide a survey of the field to date and to suggest some future directions for research, for which this new journal aims to serve as a forum.
To date the field of Jewish film and television studies can be divided into two key areas: The first is the changing history and problematic nature of the representation of the Holocaust since the first documentary footage and films of the camps appeared, and continuing up to the present.1 The second area is that of the “image” of “the Jew.”2 In the case of the latter, scholarship is primarily focused on the shifting formulation of U.S. cinematic and televisual Jewishness as a response to the ongoing crisis in the construction of Jewish-American identity during the twentieth century. Such studies are largely confined to the period before 1990. Two important and valuable works stand out in this respect: Lester D. Friedman’s Hollywood’s Image of the Jew (1982) and Patricia Erens’s The Jew in American Cinema (1984).3 Taking a diachronic and chronological approach, both books cover a vast range of cinematic representations of American Jews from the silent era to the early 1980s. However, their commendable breadth of coverage is undermined by [End Page 1] the lack of detail, so the analysis of each particular film is restricted. There have also been, among others, studies of the Jewish-American moguls, Hollywood and anti-Semitism, and Jewish-American directors.4 Surveys of television have largely been restricted to the United States, with a particular emphasis on sitcoms.5
More recent books have built upon this pioneering work, and have also updated and expanded it. Nathan Abrams and David L. Reznik (whose books are reviewed in this issue) in particular focus on the “contemporary” period, which Abrams defines as commencing in 1990 and continuing to the present.6 Unlike Reznik, who restricts himself to Hollywood and Jewish-American identity, Abrams takes a wider and more ambitious remit than simply “American cinema” to redress the curious lack of writing on how Jews have been depicted through cinema as a whole. Certainly the U.S. entertainment industries predominate in the production and distribution of films and television programs, particularly with regard to Jewish representations, but few studies have tended to encompass productions beyond the United States or beyond the Holocaust genre. Joel Rosenberg’s superb overview of film production and the scholarly approach to it, for example, is marred only by its limitations to the United States, reflecting the dominant proportion of Jewish film produced there in comparison to the rest of the world.7
Lawrence Baron’s 2011 anthology, The Modern Jewish Experience in World Cinema, introduces a new approach.8 Baron assembled an ambitious collection aiming to cover more than a century of cinematic representations of Jews, Jewishness, and Judaism dispersed over a wide geographical area. In addition to the twin Jewish filmmaking poles of the United States and Israel, films from the United Kingdom, Italy, Hungary, Mexico, and Argentina are considered. The fifty-four chapter book also spans the history of cinema from Yiddish silents through to A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2009). In so doing, Baron is to be congratulated for acknowledging that the world of Jewish cinema is in fact “global” and that there is indeed a world of cinema beyond the United States and Israel, one that is not based entirely on either anti-Semitism or the Holocaust. This global scope and context allows for comparative themes to emerge, showing how, for example, national cinemas have developed in contrast to one another, and by not suggesting a simplistic model in which the United States, as the paradigmatic cinema in Jewish...