Can Only a Jew Portray a Jew on Tv?

Does an actor have to himself be Jewish to portray a Jewish character on the television screen? Is it discrimination to tell a non-Jewish performer he is not eligible? This is the question Canada’s new Commissioner of Human Rights, Gordon Fair-weather, will have to ponder. The matter has already been submitted to him, though he was just appointed and will not assume office for several months.

A complaint has been laid by ACTRA (Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists). against John Hirsch, director of drama for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The CBC planned to stage “The Alchemist of Cecil Street,” an updated version of Ben Jonson’s “The Alchemist” with the time changed to the 20th Century and the milieu Toronto’s former Jewish quarter (Cecil Street).

Hirsch has cancelled the performance, having been unsuccessful in finding a middle-aged male Jewish actor available in Canada to take the lead role. He cannot go out of Canada for such an actor because of ACTRA’s own rules. ACTRA, on the other hand, claims that there are abundant candidates in Canada who can take the role and their being non-Jewish in no way invalidates them. One they have mentioned is British-born Canadian citizen Barry Morse who has done many character roles in his career and is willing to take this one.

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