David Baddiel has shared his thoughts on Cillian Murphy’s latest movie role in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.
The blockbuster landed in cinemas last week, with the Peaky Blinders star, 47, portraying physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Starring opposite Florence Pugh, who plays his on-screen partner Jean Tatlock, Murphy tells the true story of Oppenheimer’s work on the top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II.
Oppenheimer and a team of scientists spent years developing and designing the atomic bomb, which came to fruition in June 1945.
It’s already become one of the highest-grossing films of the year, but Baddiel has hit out at Murphy’s casting for the fact that the Irish movie star is not of Jewish descent like Oppenheimer himself was.
The Jewish comedian, 59, suggested in a new article that he isn’t totally on board with Murphy portraying ‘the father of the atomic bomb’.
As well as Murphy, Tom Conti, who plays Jewish theoretical physicist Albert Einstein in the film, isn’t Jewish either.
Writing for The Jewish Chronicle, Baddiel penned an article titled: Oppenheimer liked to pretend he wasn’t Jewish — like the film.
He penned: ‘Another day, another film/TV show/play in which a famous Jew is played by a non-Jew.
‘I have talked and written about this many times — about how it’s a question not of acting but of context: minority casting being presently dominated by the notion of authenticity, the question is why that doesn’t apply to Jews, and what that means for how people see Jews — so I shan’t rehearse it again.
‘But there is another, more complex issue thrown up by the casting in Oppenheimer. Any biopic on such a serious subject as the creation of the atomic bomb needs to delve deep into the psychological underpinnings of the narrative.’
The writer proceeded to recall the reaction to his initial calling out of the casting on social media.
‘When I discussed the movie on Twitter — where the bringing up of the issue of non-Jews continually being cast as Jews tends to lead to scores of responses saying, “It’s called acting, mate” and “Oh I suppose only murderers can play murderers now” — the writer Naomi Alderman chose to respond, very insightfully, by pointing out the vast amount of Jewish physicists whose work was vital to the discovery of nuclear fission, and therefore to the Manhattan Project.’
After listing a few, he added: ‘Something is going on there. Obviously, a lot of great scientists at the time happened to be Jewish refugees. But in a time of intense peril, the vulnerable, I think, dream of magical power. It is not coincidental that the creators of Superman, born during the war and originally a fighter of Nazis, were Jewish.’
Baddiel reasoned that ‘Oppenheimer does include scenes’ where mentions of the physicist’s heritage ‘are present and correct’.
However, he argues that ‘the film lacks, perhaps because of the casting, any profound sense that ethnicity was key to who he was’.
Concluding his piece, Baddiel explained his reasons for not using Oppenheimer’s full first name – Julius – in his writing.
‘I’ve called Oppenheimer J. Robert in this article because his first name was in fact Julius. He, however, insisted it stood for nothing, because he didn’t want people to think he was Jewish, or that Jewishness mattered much to him — and there is a sense in which Oppenheimer the movie has gone along with that.
‘But to do so is to miss, perhaps, the deepest undercurrent of the story.’
This isn’t the first time Baddiel has voiced his thoughts on casting non-Jewish stars in Jewish roles.
He previously talked to The Times about ‘authenticity casting’ and claimed it no longer exists.
‘Whatever the rights and wrongs of it, I can promise you that in this business – and I am in this business still – casting directors are now frightened to cast except in line with the minority they are casting.
‘But they are not so worried about Jews.’
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