by Raizel Liebler
In watching the trailers for Baggage Claim, I was struck by how few movies these days star Black actors where the focus is not on slavery, civil rights, or Tyler Perry. There was a time where an African-American oriented comedy starring Morris Chestnut seemed like it was a common occurrence. But in this time of marketing to many, perhaps Hollywood doesn’t see these movies as marketable. At least there is the upcoming Best Man Holiday.
On TLF, we frequently write about the importance of the inclusion of actors of color in more roles, including fantasy, sci-fi, and historical drama. But there still is a great deal of underrepresentation of actors of color, considering they are not seen as having the “right fit”. In contrast, white actors of whatever background are assumed to be able to play any role — after all, that’s “Hollywood-style color blind casting.”
I was super annoyed by the trailer for Jewtopia, an upcoming movie that plays on negative stereotypes of Jewish people. Not only does is this movie based around the plot of someone pretending to be Jewish, the actors in the majority of the roles aren’t even Jewish — but they are white! If this movie was going to be made, why not have actors of color in major roles? The frequent response is — Jews are white and no one would believe an actor of color as a Jewish person.
Oh really? I took the self-imposed challenge to write a movie treatment for a romantic comedy that focuses on the characters actively being Jewish (rather than just Jew-wacky) — and when was the last time there was a movie that mentioned Sukkot or Purim, yo?
The treatment below is based around well-known Jews of color, the majority of whom are actors. I’m not saying this would be a good movie, but it proves that Hollywood is not interested in casting the best, but instead focuses on race-based “fit.”
It does include the invocation of both the Morris Chestnut rule (Morris Chestnut must be in all African-American romantic comedies like during the glory years of Black rom-coms!) and the Gina Torres rule (Gina Torres should be in everything). They are the only two people listed that are not Jews of color. [Yes, an quasi-exception was made for Lenny Kravitz, considering he now considers himself to be Christian, but this post is not the place to talk about the ethnicity/religion/culture issues involving in Jewish identity! Just read the treatment!]
Maya Rudolph and Rashida Jones are best friends and have been ever since the first day of kindergarden, when their older sisters, Tracee Ellis Ross and Kidada Jones, were given the other’s sister to take home after school by the clueless teachers. Presently, Maya Rudolph is a Rabbinical School dropout trying to make it as a pop singer, while Rashida Jones is a psychology grad student, who has already been in grad school for over ten years. Tracee Ellis Ross is a publicist for famous people. Maya and Rashida have never been lucky in love, but always manage to know when things are going to go wrong for each other. While sitting in Tracee’s Sukkah for Sukkot and drinking, they come up with a brilliant plan — they will date the same guys at the same time for the next year!
So who to date? Insert an entire series of guys with wacky highjinks, considering they are dating and sleeping with the same guys and truly comparing notes. Finally, Rashida decides to date Lenny Kravitz, who is the first guy who seems to be able to handle the double dating. Maya wants to date Morris Chestnut instead, so there are wacky friend fights. They compromise, by both dating both guys — but not talking to each other. Lenny’s daughter, Zoe Kravitz, thinks the whole situation is ridiculous, and heads out to spend time with her boyfriend, Drake, who is being repped by Tracee Ellen Ross. Eric Steinberg is the father of Hailie Steinfield, who wants to have a Bat Mitzvah before heading off to college, a promise she made to her mom, who passed away several years before. Maya is her tutor, but Hailie is super off-key, leading to lots of musical interludes — and chats between Maya and Eric.
Tracee is dating a younger guy, Jordan Farmar, while trying to plan out his career. Zoe’s best friend, Katarina Graham, tells her that she has seen Drake meeting with an older woman, Sophie Okonedo, and plants the seed that he is cheating. Meanwhile, while dating Lenny is going well, Morris is pulling away, considering that he’s decided that dating two women who talk to each other about everything is too much to handle. Rashida’s grad school advisor, Gina Torres, says that if she doesn’t figure out what to do with her dissertation, she’s not going to graduate. Morris breaks up with Maya & Rashida, leading to them having a big fight with each other — but at least they still have Lenny!
Zoe confronts Drake, who claims that Sophie Okonedo is his mother, in front of his new publicist, Tracee, and her other new client, Yityish Aynaw. Tracee doesn’t believe him, but doesn’t interfere — and later breaks up with Jordan. Rashida and Maya have compared notes on Lenny, and confront him, because they have decided to break their pact, both wanting to date him alone. He tells them that after talking to his best friend/ex, Lisa Bonet, he needs to focus on himself, so he’s leaving to spend quality family time with Lisa & Zoe. Darn — Maya and Rashida are alone again!
Both completely single Maya and Rashida decide to go crazy with their sisters at the Purim party, with performances by lots of Jewish and/or African-American metal, hardcore or jazz performers, including Joshua Redman. The moshing gets super-intense during a new song called “Haman Must Go!” Maya gets elbowed in the face, hard, and is about to be trampled. Sophie and Eric pick her up, but she is dazed. Because they are both doctors, Sophie and Eric disagree about the course of treatment, but ultimately decide to call an ambulance, and the three of them, plus Tracee get in the ambulance. Tracee congratulates Sophie for having such a famous son — she replies incredulously, she doesn’t have a kid, but is a doctor who moonlights treating stars for STDs!
While at the hospital, Eric confesses that he has always had feelings for Maya, but considering she went straight from a breakup to co-dating with Rashida, he couldn’t tell her about his feelings. She exclaims “My mother always wanted me to marry a doctor!” and then passes out.
[Title Card: A Year and a Bit Later]
Maya is holding a baby, next to Eric. The rabbi talks about how today is a special day because two children are being welcomed into the Jewish community! And during Passover. Maya hands the baby back to its mother, Sophie — and calls her daughter (the kid of Taye Diggs & Idina Menzel) to her. The rabbi does a speech about how being Jewish is about being part of a community, whether born into it — or adopted into it, and this is an opportunity to celebrate both, with both a Bris and a Bat Millah.
Everyone sits down to start the Seder afterward — Zoe is there with her new boyfriend, Jordan. Rashida and Morris are trying to make another go as a couple as well. Biggest surprise — baby’s *other* mom is Tracee!
The screen fades as the group sings “Let My People Go”.