In the face of rampant antisemitism and hate crime statistics soaring in the United States and abroad — per the FBI, Jews are the most targeted ethno-religious group in the U.S. — the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) has announced the launch of its ADL entertainment Leadership Council, a cohort of top executives and creatives in the film, television, music and media space. The group’s collection mission: to combat societal hate, including antisemitism.
“ADL is the oldest anti-hate organization in America. We’ve been focused on fighting antisemitism, and all forms of bigotry, for 110 years,” says Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO and national director. “And one of the issues that is obvious to us, and I think that is obvious to all, is that popular culture shapes the public conversation. In a World in which there’s a high degree of cynicism and distrust about institutions–whether it’s the government or the media or other large entities–today, more than ever, entertainers and influencers shape public opinion and have a direct impact.”
“We also know the power of stories,” continues Greenblatt. “We know that telling stories is a really important part of making sense of the World around us. We also know that it has been a source of real tension to see antisemitism on the rise in recent years. And we’ve seen that manifest in the political space. We’ve seen it manifest on college campuses. And in ways that I think are troubling, we’ve seen it become present in what I’ll call influencer culture and in the entertainment space.”
To that end, UTA, which reps the ADL, assembled a core group of 21 initial members, with plans to grow as the entertainment Leadership Council takes flight. Those flagship members are: Aaron Rosenberg, partner, Myman Greenspan; Ben Silverman, Co-CEO and chairman, Propagate; Blair Kohan, board member, UTA; Brian Dobbins, talent manager and producer, Artists First; Eric Schrier, president, Disney General Entertainment; Gail Berman, Chairman and CEO, The Jackal Group; Jessica Yellin, host, “News Not Noise”; Julianna Margulies, actor; Karen Hermelin, EVP worldwide research and strategy, Paramount Pictures; Kira Goldberg, vice president, Original Studio Film, Netflix; Leslie Belzberg, film and television producer; Melissa Zukerman, partner, Principal Communications; Michael Sugar, founder and CEO, Sugar23; Modi Wiczyk, co-founder and CEO, MRC; Nick Meyer, CEO, Sierra Affinity/eOne; Nina Tassler, Founder, PatMa; Paul Neinstein, Co-CEO, Project X Entertainment; Seth Oster, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, The Wonderful Company; Stephanie Simon, co-founder and partner, Untitled Entertainment; Susan Rovner, chairman, entertainment Content, NBCUniversal Television; and Valeisha Butterfield Jones, VP, Partnerships & Engagement at Google, Inc. and Honorary Chair, Black Music Collective at Recording Academy / Grammys.
Building on the same model used to create the sports Leadership Council, which the ADL founded in 2017 to inspire leading voices from professional and amateur sports to use their platforms to push back against prejudice and hate, the entertainment Leadership Council “will allow us to strategically engage with industry leadership around our mission of fighting antisemitism in all forms,” says Greenblatt.
“That could mean convening people periodically for in-person meetings, that could mean getting individuals or organizations or companies helping us tell stories about people standing up against hate,” adds Greenblatt. That could mean helping us tell our own story at ADL. And this may be the most important piece: creating an open dialogue for active consultation in a formative manner before issues of hate happen. We can help studios and production companies and artists think about how to address those issues more effectively. And when there is a problem, there’s an open channel of communication to figure out what’s the go-forward plan to correct when something happens.”
Sugar notes that, “the influence that entertainment and storytelling has on our society has never been as prevalent and pervasive as it is today. It is essential that when we tell stories, we do so in a way that is accessible, impactful and honest. I look forward to working alongside ADL and my fellow ELC members to not only tell stories that combat antisemitism, but to also challenge Hollywood to take a firm and final stand against all forms of hate”
“And since our culture is rooted in remembrance, both tragic and miraculous, our community knows storytelling and truth sharing is very powerful ammunition against bias,” adds Zukerman. “I am so moved to be part of a team who are unified and ready for this challenge at our most critical time.”
Greenblatt categorizes what he refers to as “two variants of antisemitism.”
“Today, we have what I describe as abrasive antisemitism — the kind of antisemitism like Kanye West or the National Day of Hate. It’s in your face, aggressive, often violent,” says Greenblatt. “And then you have what I will characterize as erasive antisemitism — when Jewish stories don’t get told, or when Jews are not included.”
The entertainment Leadership Council will aim to defang both, says Greenblatt.
But given the onslaught on antisemitism in media, will members of the ADL entertainment Leadership Council have legitimate and effective sway when it comes to convincing networks and streaming services to create content that projects Jews in a nuanced, positive, accurate and authentic light? After all, members of the ELC work for studios and streamers that have, at various times, rolled out content that many members of the Jewish community have found to contain harmful, antisemitic tropes. Netflix, for example, has come under collective fire for “You People,” the romantic comedy co-written by Jonah Hill and Kenya Barris that contains a multitude of antisemitic stereotypes. It’s a film Greenblatt himself has noted is potentially dangerous to the Jewish community.
“In a film that makes an effort, even if a flawed one, to challenge prejudices, it was jarring to hear the antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jews were responsible for the transatlantic slave trade go virtually unchallenged,” says Goldblatt of “You People.” “We need to have uncomfortable conversations and satire is instrumental in driving those conversations, but the film is not an accurate reflection of the Black-Jewish relationship, a relationship which is vitally important and should not be trivialized for a few laughs.”
But this is why the entertainment Leadership Council is needed, says Goldblatt.
“Sometimes, even people with the best intentions, get it wrong,” he says. “I don’t believe in cancel culture — I believe in council culture. My job is to help them get it right and to help offer the kind of tools to cope with crises, and to help people hopefully fight hate on the front end.”
Originally published at variety.com