Skip To Content

So How Many Jewish, Female Film Characters Are There?

The fact that nice Jewish actress Natalie Portman told Elle UK that she “she stays away from Jewish roles” (the full interview isn’t posted yet) prompted Double X’s Jessica Grose to ask how many major studio movies in recent years have actually had explicitly Jewish female protagonists outside the Holocaust genre. She came up with a mere two: “Kissing Jessica Stein” (one of my personal favorites) and “Two Lovers.”

At first I thought she was undershooting — we’re all over the movies! — but then I realized that finding more examples that fit her criteria was far harder than it seemed. I actually had to go back to the 1990s, and do some real digging and sifting through comment threads to fill out my list, which contains its share of mother-in-law type supporting characters who are not explicitly romantic protagonists.

Here it is:

•Meryl Streep as the therapist in “Prime.”

•Norah (Kat Dennings) in “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.”

•All the female characters (Tovah Feldshuh, Anna Paquin, Diane Lane) in the wonderful “A Walk on the Moon.”

•Shoshanna Dreyfuss, played by Melanie Laurent, in “Inglorious Basterds.”

•Barbara Streisand in “Meet the Fockers.”

•Apparently, Angelina Jolie’s character, a deadly assassin in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” although it’s disclosed in a punchlline.

• Karen Hill, formerly Friedman, played by Lorraine Bracco in “Goodfellas” — a Jewish girl who marries into the mob.

•Charlotte in “Sex and the City.” She’s a convert, and it’s a movie franchise now.

Are there more that I’m missing? If so, free to add them to the comments section of this post.

What interested me as I trolled back through my memory and through the comment thread at Double X is how a huge majority of today’s mainstream movies and romantic comedies have ethnically and religiously ambiguous characters, sometimes with names like the protagonists of “It’s Complicated” have: “Adler.” Sounds Jewish. Some characters may have a New York hint-hint quality to them, but they’re often not explicitly introduced as coming from any background.

I’ve always believed that the best films, particularly romances or comedies, set their characters in a real context, whether they’re Jews, WASPs, African-Americans or characters from another distinct background or ethnic heritage. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” may have been a slapsticky caricature, but audiences loved it because they saw their own families in its boisterous, far-from-bland Greek one. I don’t understand why more movies don’t situate their protagonists in a culture — whether or not it’s my own.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.