Jonah Hill, the hero we didn’t know we needed: Phoebe Maltz Bovy on some recent Jewish arts controversies

In this era of artificial intelligence, it’s hard to know what’s real. Is Brad Pitt really playing French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in a biopic? Mais non, someone had just done an AI mock-up of what that would look like. Is Pope Francis really going around in a papal version of the Aritzia Super Puff? Once again, too good to be true.

So when I saw that Kanye “Ye” West had changed his mind about Jews—he no longer daydreams of our annihilation—because of the 2012 Jonah Hill movie 21 Jump Street, my thinking was, clever joke.

But this time it’s no joke! Ye himself posted the following musing to Instagram: “Watching Jonah Hill in 21 Jump street made me like Jewish people again.”

If a work of art is going to make an antisemite come around to Jews, this seems, how to put this? Random. Of all the movies with Jewish actors in them to have that effect, why a largely forgotten comedy from a decade ago?

It is here that I must confess to having never seen the film in question. For all I know it’s intensely Jewish, a positive documentary about the Talmud and Israel and bagels. But my hunch, from reading what it is, is that it is not. Indeed, my hunch is that if you watch a movie like that and your immediate thought is that there is a Jew in this movie then you are either tallying Jewish actors in your capacities as a journalist for a Jewish publication, or… you are not Jewish and doing so for more nefarious reasons.


Another public figure to come around to the Jews: the late mystery novelist Agatha Christie. The Guardian reports, or rather reports that they paywalled Telegraph reports, that, much like Roald Dahl, Christie is being posthumously updated to take out the problematic bits:

“The newspaper reported that the edits cut references to ethnicity, such as describing a character as black, Jewish or Gypsy, or a female character’s torso as ‘of black marble’ and a judge’s ‘Indian temper’, and removed terms such as ‘Oriental’ and the N-word.”

This is not the first de-N-word-ification of Christie’s oeuvre, which is if nothing else an understandable editorial decision. What’s less clear is how removing a reference to a character simply having a racial or ethnic background would help matters. If the character is offensive, won’t that remain the case even if the group’s name is not spelled out? And, as with Dahl, isn’t there a risk not just in editing the art of the no longer living, but in sanitizing the reputation of a writer who had less-good points that might now be forgotten?

In any case, I maintain that television’s Poirot is super duper Jewish, despite not being Jewish in the least. If Ye wanted to come around to Jews on the basis of reruns, I think it ought to have been from that Poirot ep where he solves the case without ever leaving his bedroom.

The CJN’s senior editor Phoebe Maltz Bovy can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @bovymaltz