Lighter Side! Cultural appropriation, Lana Shelley and raising a Jewish dog!

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Lighter Side! Cultural appropriation, Lana Shelley and raising a Jewish dog!

Brigit Grant's reflects on whether a character’s ethnicity, sexuality or disability should be confined to the performer’s own experience

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Lana Shelley, Scarlett Johansson, Helen Mirren and a Jewish pooch!
Lana Shelley, Scarlett Johansson, Helen Mirren and a Jewish pooch!

Where there’s a will, there’s OY VEY

Not since Barbra Streisand returned to the London stage has a comeback been more welcome. I’m talking about my hairdresser, who reappeared in the guise of a welder last week to bravely ‘balayage’ again and, after four months of estrangement, I was ready for some deep conditioning and serious chat. 

Alas, our talk was impeded by her hockey player visor, so we stuck to the niceties – of which there are so few these days – and, in place of holidays, she asked if I had any television planned. Obviously, I told her as, unbelievably, there are still series I didn’t watch on Netflix, Amazon etc during lockdown and I’ve not yet seen Normal People – the drama that was the talk of quarantine. But I’m worried, I told her, about the future of entertainment, as the PC lobby is obsessed with transgressions in casting and cultural appropriation.

My hairdresser looked confused. Actors will only be allowed to play themselves, I explained, so a character’s ethnicity, sexuality or disability will be confined to the performer’s own experience.

This will not only make drama schools redundant but, followed to its natural conclusion, Holby City will eventually be staffed by medics who act and shows about serial killers will have genuine psychopaths as their leads.

Of course, racial and sexual stereotyping should be addressed, but isn’t acting all about pretending to be what one is not?

And is it right to shoehorn in a performer because of their profile and not their talent? 

I don’t believe any BAME actors want that, as it is only through the performances of convincing eclectic casts that we can resolve issues of inequality.

Confusingly, a recent report by the Creative Diversity Network reveals that ethnic minorities are significantly over-represented on British television, although this excludes Jews, as we are only defined as a minority on a cause by cause basis. I’ve long wondered where we fit in to the ethnic minority narrative, as we are only there by virtue of faith not colour and, when it comes to entertainment, we run the show according to Grime artist Wiley and his fans, so only a beard and payot would stand in the way of getting a role. 

So we’re not part of the cultural appropriation debate, yet I still don’t understand why it’s simply okay for non-Jewish actors to be given Jewish roles?

Why were there objections to Sir Ben Kingsley (real name Krishna Bhanji) donning brown face to play Gandhi, yet nothing was said about his roles as Simon Wiesenthal or Itzhak Stern in Schindler’s List?

No one shouted ‘Jewface’ when Alfred Molina (not Jewish) starred as Fiddler’s Tevye on Broadway or when Catholic Nathan Lane took on Max Bialystock in The Producers.

Then there’s Dame Helen Mirren, who gets the juiciest Jewish parts without being challenged, yet the trans community shamed Scarlett Johansson into giving up the role of a trans man in the film Rub and Tug.

Scarlett Johansson missed out on playing a trans man

No one squeaked when Glee’s Lea Michele missed out on Maria in Spielberg’s West Side Story because she wasn’t culturally appropriate, but Melissa McCarthy got nominated for playing Jewish biographer Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann in Woman in Gold

Do we yell about the fact that only one of the sons is played by a Jewish actor in Friday Night Dinner or Catholic-raised Kathryn Hahn appeared as Rabbi Raquel Feyn in Transparent?

Lea Michele was not able to play a Latina character

No we don’t, as evidently cultural appropriation is, like so many things, different when it comes to Jews.

Even Amazon’s Hunters, which had Al Pacino hiding his Nazi past by pretending to be Jewish, wasn’t deemed contentious, although I’m convinced other minorities faced with a similar storyline would have kicked up hell, but being falsely charged with industry domination makes it harder to complain.

My hairdresser listened from behind her protective visor. I fear I’ll soon be needing one for viewing purposes. 



“Don’t know much about literacy, what’s a digraph, what’s a phoneme, I don’t know much about decimals … but I do know that I didn’t choose to be here home schooling you – it’s a crazy reality.”

Lana Shelley

 My colleague Alex Galbinski likes to think she wasn’t the only one who searched for comical videos by singer-songwriters to help her see the funny (?) side of lockdown. She wasn’t of course, and her search proved fruitful. “There were many amazing parodies by US artists, but I was won over by jazz singer and songwriter Lana Shelley,” says Alex. Turns out north Londoner Lana, who penned the above lyrics set to the tune of Wonderful World by Sam Cooke, is also available for parties and simchas and has a daytime alter ego – children’s entertainer Ilana Banana.

In this capacity, she has updated the lyrics to several songs to share her thoughts on such subjects as mothering 24/7, home schooling, supermarket shopping and her favourite things during lockdown (yes, there are some!). 

 “One afternoon, I recorded myself singing Summertime in my garden, but the words didn’t ring true… so I changed them and Mothertime was born,” says Lana, who has other parody lockdown songs parents can relate to. “The words wrote themselves and the response has been fantastic,” she adds. Alex’s personal favourite is Corona London, the song she wrote to accompany some haunting footage by film-maker Michal McEwen of deserted London early in lockdown.

Listen to all the songs at or get in touch to book a performance.


How do I raise a Jewish Dog?,

Employ a Jewish dog trainer! Tracie & Waggingtons Ltd, in Mill Hill, has been welcoming dogs into her home for more than 15 years. From the youngest and greenest of pups to the more senior canine companions, all ages, sizes and breeds, Tracie, who ran a dog sanctuary in Israel, believes the skills they get when spending time at her home daycare and boarding,
is invaluable. She is a qualified dog behaviourist and knows from many
years of experience that dogs teach other dogs much better that we can. 

“I’m constantly guiding their behaviour all the time and supervising play, making sure the lessons they learn from each other are positive and enriching. I teach basic skills and regard every moment as a training opportunity.”

Tracie has plenty of knowledge regarding dog nutrition and will gently steer in the right direction a Jewish mother who  is perhaps overfeeding. No double helpings of chicken soup!!

“Many people with relatively little experience have become owners of puppies in the past few months. I can help them develop strong relationships just by giving some useful tips and advice.”

Unlikely friendships are formed between breeds and often, when an owner comes to collect, their dog doesn’t want to leave. A day spent at Waggingtons and you won’t want to either., 07869 153093,
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