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Why Showing Judaism Onscreen Is So Rare

"It was so important to illustrate how important faith is to this man," Josh Gad said of his character in Marshall.

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While there have been plenty of Jewish characters in film, usually the most "Jewish" thing about them is their last name: Cher Horowitz in Clueless, Jim Levenstein in American Pie, Frances Houseman in Dirty Dancing, etc. Their religion rarely factors into the movie itself.

That's why it's particularly noteworthy that Marshall — the upcoming film about Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) defending Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown) from accusations he raped a rich white woman (Kate Hudson) in 1941 — not only features a central Jewish character, but that that character's faith is a large part of the story.

In Marshall, attorney Samuel Friedman (Josh Gad) is shown attending temple services with his family, heard talking about the importance of his faith, and one scene even features a member of his congregation donating money to Spell's defense.

For Gad, whose grandparents survived the Holocaust, the role is a source of pride — especially since he knows how rare characters like Friedman are in pop culture. "There’s a comment that’s sort of notorious in Hollywood, especially by creative people of Jewish background, where there’s a great fear that something might be 'too Jewish' for audiences," Gad told BuzzFeed News. "I think one of the refreshing things about this film is it does embrace that very thing and to me, it was so important because it’s true. I mean, you don’t really get to see that."

Watch Josh Gad talk about the intersection of racism and anti-Semitism in Marshall.

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Jarett Wieselman is a senior entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. Wieselman writes about and reports on the television industry.

Contact Jarett Wieselman at jarett.wieselman@buzzfeed.com.

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