A Letter to Judd Apatow

stereotypeDear Mr. Apatow:

Tonight I took a break from the sadness I have felt since the shootings in Sandy Hook to see your new film “This is 40”. I looked forward to what I knew would be a slice of life, with Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann playing two parts of a couple resembling my real life coupledom. And indeed it was.  You put my life on the screen! I was glad to step out of the zone I have spiraled in since the shootings and I was grateful for the break.  However, this is not a film review.  That will come here on this blog later this week.  Instead I want to tell you about something that happened during your movie.

The legendary Albert Brooks and wonderful Leslie Mann were having a very touching moment in the hospital after Paul Rudd’s biking accident, just five minutes before your film ended. I don’t want to give too much away, but the two characters kissed and made up, tears rolled down Mann’s cheeks and then he asked her for $40 for a cab-ride home.  The timing of his comment was impeccable and the audience laughed, including me.

And then out of nowhere, the patron next to me loudly stated: “Oh my god, what a f-kin’ Jewbagger!”

My heart dropped.  I have lived in the New York area for many years now and while I won’t say that I haven’t experienced anti-Semitism up here, I will say that the incidents are few and far.  When I first moved to New York, I was no longer the only Jewish person in a crowded room.  I was one of many.  I’m a proud Jew and I am the first to declare my religious affiliation.

I nearly flew out of my seat.  Thankfully, your film was almost over and I’m sorry to say that the remaining moments were ruined.  I was thinking to myself, do I say something or let this go?  I moved closer to my sister and wished I could move to another seat in the theater.  As his laughter got louder, I got more insulted (even though that was a good sign that your movie is very, very good, please know that I am not saying otherwise).

After the film ended and the credits started rolling, I felt obliged to stand up for myself, for the Jewish people, so I simply turned to him and said, “Jewish people are not the only people who like money, you know.” I guess I expected an apology.  After he had made the comment during the film, I thought I saw him acknowledge my discomfort in the dark after he made the remark.

But instead, I got this: “F—k you! Who do you think you are?  If you want me to think otherwise, tell your people to stop perpetuating the stereotype in films, books, on TV and everywhere, you f—k’in bitch.”

My sister and the guy’s companion did not understand what had erupted between us, and I was so shocked.  I was just looking for an apology or explanation.  Instead, I got cursed out and made to feel like I was at fault.

I look at your film and the way Albert Brooks was portrayed.  He’s an aging father who can’t support himself and his family, so his son supports him.  His son calls him a mooch, but they have a very loving relationship.  There is nothing “Jewish” about it.  Am I surprised that someone took it as a stereotype that is so perpetuated that he thinks all Jews are money-grabbers?  Absolutely.

When I was a sophomore in college in Georgia, I had a roommate from a much smaller town.  From the minute I moved in, she treated me like a leper. I got prank calls from her friends asking me how much money was in my dad’s bank account and how much money I had in my bank account.  Within weeks, she moved out.  She thought I had horns.  It broke my heart, but I had my own room the rest of the school year and, as a result, I became very active with the University Hillel.

But what good can come out of ignorance like this?  Perhaps I’m very sheltered in my New York suburb where I am surrounded by Jewish people, not all terribly observant but all very proud.

There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing Jews portrayed on screen.  It’s always a slice of life when I see films with Jewish themes and stories I can relate to and laugh and cry about.  My father was not that dissimilar to Albert Brooks when he was in better health.  He was funny as hell and not great with his money as he approached old age either.

But aren’t we all?  Who’s good with money when they get older?  Can’t one say that Brooks reminds him of their own parents, regardless of religion?

Mr. Apatow, I wanted you to know about the comment made by this guy because I’m sure that anti-Semitism is not the type of reaction you want.  It took me by surprise, and I’m sure you would feel the same way. You are also a proud Jew. What would you have said to this guy? I know what Mel Brooks would have said: “Yes, I am a Jew! What about it? What about it?”

I, for one, am so glad that you bring Jewish life to the world on screen, over and over again, using bits of our history to tell each story,  and I hope that others appreciate your work and don’t have to put up with the ridicule I encountered tonight.

Kind regards from your fan,

Holly Rosen Fink

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  1. Masha Dolnikova says:

    Dear Culture Mom,
    Good for you for standing up for the Jews, but I am afraid that I agree with that anti-Semite: too many Jewish writers, directors and producers in Hollywood DO perpetuate anti-Semitic stereotypes …” in films, books, on TV and everywhere”, including Judd Apatow in the film you saw. I just saw it last night on TV and cringed not only at the moment you did, but at other moments as well, for instance, at the scene at the birthday party where the vulgar and bigoted discussion was held about “playing the ‘Jew card’, and all of the Jews in the scene agreed that you can always do so, play the ‘Jew card’, that is. Now THAT is anti-Semitism. The film was basically a paean to Leslie Mann, the perfect woman and “shiksa goddess” that Judd Apatow married. You wrote that he is a proud Jew? What evidence do you have for this? If you can prove me wrong, I will be humbled. I am afraid that too many Jewish characters in too many Hollywood films are portrayed by Jewish writers of both sexes as screwed up, or physically unattractive, or in some way stereotypical in the most negative way . I find them everywhere I go: e.g. the boyfriend of the protagonist of “Orange is the New Black” and his stereotypically shrewish “Jewish mother” and fast-talking lawyer father. I believe in self-irony but most of the Jewish characters I see in films and on TV are self-deprecating, if not worse; none of them has any positive connection to Judaism or knowledge or experience of it . I suppose I should see this as a sad reflection of reality: not only that Jews continue to put on the burnt cork to do the Jewish minstrel show and sing and dance as the non-Jews like to see us, but in America, where the Jews have never had more freedom, most of them choose to assimilate. To me, as a Jew, that is not only sad, but tragic.

    • The Jewish Journal summed up how Apatow feels about his Judiasm: “What Apatow may have meant when he said, ‘I couldn’t be more Jewish” is that Judaism informs the way he negotiates the world. Or as Roseanne put it, “the dominant culture’” (Hollywood, by nature, is a response to the dominant culture so it’s very Jewish in that way too.) And while Apatow’s movies are beloved by the larger culture, they are mostly about people on the fringes. People who are quirky and weird and unordinary. People who crack jokes because they’re smarter, but they’ll never belong.” Apatow is neither Anti-semitic nor a self hating Jew. You should never agree with an Anti-Semite, particularly in the dangerous times we are living in.

  2. This is really upsetting. I’m so sorry you had to experience that. Good for you for saying something, even if you got cursed out for saying it.

  3. I had my own room freshman year for the same reason. I have neighbors who don’t invite my kids over… It’s sad but true that anti semitism lives and breathes. Good for you for talking back and writing this.

  4. Except for two remarks (not directed at me), I haven’t experienced anti-Semitism. I am so glad you said something, which I’m sure wasn’t easy to do.

    I don’t understand how people can be anti Semitic, racist or homophobic. And they see nothing wrong with it. Boggles my mind. Unfortunately we can’t control what other people think, most likely someone in that person’s life taught it to him. But I can teach my own children to not hate someone or a specific group of people just because of their religion, race or sexuality.

    • Thanks, Nancy, I agree. It boggles my mind. And we should be able to watch other groups of people on film without “perpetuating the stereotype”. Why can’t we chalk it up as education?

  5. I don’t even know where to begin.
    The fact that this sentiment exists in 2012, in New York, and that the person feels he has a right to express it? Makes me so, so sad. And your college experience is horrifying. Fortunately, I’ve been spared so much of it, so I have the luxury of thinking that people who espouse those views must be insane

    • You are so lucky, Marinka. I wish I could say the same but perhaps since I am Southern, I am more sensitive to it as I’ve had more experiences now than I’d like to tell you about.

  6. OMG, thank G-d my father wasn’t there. He WOULD have beaten the crap out of this guy and ended up being in the wrong. I could imagine it now. I can see myself as a teen with my dad at the movies … whew. But seriously? What the hell? This is awful. I’m so sorry that you had this experience but I am proud of you for standing up and *representing* despite it and the jack@$$ who shouted. And for writing this – because THIS is what it’s about. Alerting people to horrible stereotypes. What awfulness exists. SIgh. I hate it. But I’m still proud of you!!

  7. Ugh, ugh, UGH. Holly, this may sound twisted, but I’m in a way glad it happened to you and not someone else. YOU stood up to him. YOU had the sense to walk away when you saw it wouldn’t get there. YOU wrote this beautiful and eloquent post, and I hope YOU get a response from Judd Apatow, which would no doubt be way more valuable and enjoyable and satisfying than the response from the knuckle-scraper in the movie theater. You’re the best.

  8. And they say the level of discourse in our country has dropped. Hmmm. Good for you for try to address a rude remark. The man who made it clearly wasn’t looking for discourse or enlightenment, though. Don’t let that stop you from trying to right wrongs in the future.

    And the college story is just sad. We know your closed-minded former roommate missed out on good times and a terrific friend

    I was concerned about clicking over because I want to see this movie on Christmas Day and was worried your post related more directly to the movie. I’m looking forward to some great laughs.

    Also, Judd Apatow is Jewish?!

  9. why do i love you truly, madly and deeply?? Because you didn’t just sit there and TAKE IT- you stood up for your beliefs and really that’s all one can do in the FACE of ignorance..heart you!

  10. You are kidding me! In this day and age? Good grief, this guy is SUCH a low life. The best thing to come out of this was your post! I hope Judd responds and you can go for coffee!

  11. Wow. Stay strong and stay proud.

  12. I’m stunned at what happened to you. Honestly, growing up in CT, going to college in Philadelphia and living in New York and now Los Angeles, I’ve never experienced anything like this. I guess I am the exception. Yes, we DO need to stand up for ourselves… because no one else will.

    FYI… on a side note: I saw Judd Apatow perform in a comedy club when I first moved to Los Angeles and he was a lowly stand-up comic. I had a mad crush on him because he honestly was the absolute funniest comic I had ever seen. Had I known he was going to become so huge… I might have bought him a drink.

  13. So sorry you experienced such vitriol and antisemitism. It’s 2012, right? And good for you for writing that letter.

    • Funny that I had a similar experience yesterday on 8th Avenue and 36th street, getting out of a cab. I’ll skip the details but the upshot is that I was loudly berated for several minutes by someone whose favorite adjective (only adjective?) was “f@&king.”) Your unpleasant incident — like the one directed against me last night — is a racist rant coming from a pathetic, rage-fueled MORON. IT is AWFUL to hear this shizz but consider the source. Too bad a burly group of Jewish boys were not sitting near him to beat the crap out of him. NYC is a haven. Try living in some European cities as a New York Jew. Every day brings with it a new insult. But good for you for speaking up. I basically looked at the guy last night and laughed in his face, then walked really quickly into my meeting, praying he wasn’t following me with a tire iron.

    • Thanks, Sandra. Your support says it all.

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