"Millenniel Jewish Stars" book cover

Millennial Jewish Stars

Navigating Racial Antisemitism, Masculinity, and White Supremacy

Jewish stars have longed faced pressure to downplay Jewish identity for fear of alienating wider audiences. But unexpectedly, since the 2000s, many millennial Jewish stars have won stellar success while spotlighting (rather than muting) Jewish identity. In Millennial Jewish Stars, Jonathan Branfman, AB ’11, the Eli Reinhard Postdoctoral Fellow in Jewish Studies at Stanford University, asks: what makes these explicitly Jewish stars so unexpectedly appealing? And what can their surprising success tell us about race, gender, and antisemitism in America?

To answer these questions, Branfman offers case studies on six top millennial Jewish stars: the biracial rap superstar Drake, comedic rapper Lil Dicky, TV comedy duo Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, “man-baby” film star Seth Rogen, and chiseled film star Zac Efron.

Branfman argues that despite their differences, each star’s success depends on how they navigate racial antisemitism: the historical notion that Jews are physically inferior to Christians. Each star especially navigates racial stigmas about Jewish masculinity—stigmas that depict Jewish men as emasculated, Jewish women as masculinized, and both as sexually perverse. By embracing, deflecting, or satirizing these stigmas, each star comes to symbolize national hopes and fears about all kinds of hot-button issues. For instance, by putting a cuter twist on stereotypes of Jewish emasculation, Seth Rogen plays soft man-babies who dramatize (and then resolve) popular anxieties about modern fatherhood. This knack for channeling national dreams and doubts is what makes each star so unexpectedly marketable.

In turn, examining how each star navigates racial antisemitism onscreen makes it easier to pinpoint how antisemitism, white privilege, and color-based racism interact in the real world. Likewise, this insight can aid readers to better notice and challenge racial antisemitism in everyday life.

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