The new Netflix movie ‘You People‘ is a romantic comedy starring Jonah Hill, Eddie Murphy, Julia Louise Dreyfus, Lauren London and David Duchovny. The film is about a Jewish man, Ezra who falls in love with Amira, a black Muslim woman, and the ensuing drama and hijinx of efforts by the couple’s parents to reconcile their stark religious and cultural differences.
The Guardian published three reviews of the movie. One likened it to an updated version of the 1967 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, retooled for millennials. The only one of the reviews to mention the controversial lines in the film about Louis Farrakhan was a Jan. 27th piece by Guardian US editor Lauren Mechling, here:
[Ezra’s parents] are elated when they meet their son’s new girlfriend, who is beautiful and patient and … it’s hard to say what else. Shelley is a virtue-signaling, challah-serving Jewish mom with a flair for putting her foot in her mouth, unable to stop herself from making comments about Black hair and Louis Farrakhan.
In fact, it wasn’t Ezra’s mom who brought up Farrakhan. It was Amira’s dad, who told Ezra’s family, at dinner during their first meeting, that the kufi he was wearing was a gift from “the honorable Louis Farrakhan”. He then asked Ezra’s mom if she’s “familiar with the minister’s work”, to which she responds, “Well, I’m familiar with what he said about the Jews” – a reply which represents the only real push-back against Farrakhan in the film.
Later, during the dinner, an argument erupts when Amira’s dad accuses Ezra’s mom of comparing slavery to the Holocaust. Without recounting the whole conversation, the take-away of the back and forth is that Jews, contrary to what Ezra’s mom claimed at one point, have not achieved success in America due to merit, and are privileged.
This is extremely relevant given a recent study of hiring managers and recruiters in the US showing that nearly 25% said “they wanted fewer Jewish people in their industry and a similar share admitted they’re less likely to advance Jewish applicants”. Among the top reasons cited for such bigotry: “Perceptions that Jewish people have too much power and wealth”. That study is also consistent with recent polling by ADL showing an increased acceptance by Americans of antisemitic tropes about Jews having “too much” and/or “unearned” success and power.
Later in the film, Amira’s mom accuses Jews of having come to America with “the money they made from the slave trade”, an antisemitic and historically inaccurate claim popularized by Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam (NOI). (Recall that NBA star Kyrie Irving recently promoted a 2018 film which included the false accusation that Jews controlled the slave trade.)
The best Ezra’s father could do is to respond by meekly suggesting that Amira’s dad should “check his sources”.
Now, let’s stop for a second to remember that that the film is a comedy, and the looks of abject horror on Ezra and Amira’s faces during the extreme awkwardness of their parents’ dinner conversation in question were – among other scenes in the movie – indeed quite funny.
However, to those aware of the decades-long record of extreme anti-Jewish racism by Louis Farrakhan, whom ADL describes as the most popular and culturally relevant anti-Semite in America, it’s impossible to overlook how the Reform Jews in ‘You People’ came off looking far less sympathetic than Amira’s (Farrakhan-adoring) parents.
It’s of course true that, in books, film and TV, bigots can be portrayed sympathetically without endorsing the bigotry. Archie Bunker, from the popular 70s US sitcom All in the Family comes to mind. However, though Archie’s character was nuanced, likable and very funny, his bigoted comments themselves were never legitimised. They were the object of ridicule.
Tellingly, the only one of the characters in ‘You People’ forced to have a real reckoning with their racism was Ezra’s mom – who eventually apologised to Amira for trying so hard to show she wasn’t racist that she ended up fetishising her, treating her not as a real person but as moral trophy – the “black token daughter-in-law”, as Amira put it.
Dispiritingly, no such lessons are learned by Amira’s parents – and, by extension, tens of millions of film viewers – about the impact on Jews of their embrace of the vicious, conspiratorial Jew-hatred of “the honorable Louis Farrakhan”.