on the scene

ADL opens Media and Entertainment Institute to ‘harness the power of culture’ for good

At launch event, CEO Jonathan Greenblatt says initiative will work directly with industry leaders to combat antisemitism and bigotry through better representation

In a city of striking writers and actors, the Anti-Defamation League gathered industry professionals, local community leaders and representatives of partner organizations at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. The occasion was the formal announcement of the ADL’s new Media and Entertainment Institute, created to engage directly with industry leaders and partner organizations toward improving societal perceptions of Jewish people and understanding of antisemitism. 

On arrival at the fifth-floor meeting area, after posing and laughing with colleagues in celebration of the ADL’s newest effort to fight hatred against Jews and other marginalized groups, schmoozing guests enjoyed abundant hors d’oeuvres, drinks and a poke bar; several members of the ADL’s board were in attendance, fresh off a day of meetings. While the “blue carpet” and step-and-repeat photo ops lacked the celebrity splash that local, Hollywood-themed events usually draw, people in attendance understood the reason. Several speakers mentioned the writers’ and actors’ strikes, but didn’t give it too much air time.

At the event, Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s chief executive, said he was there to commemorate Jewish storytelling and “to talk about ADL’s harnessing the power of culture and media to address the very real crisis in this moment.”

The ADL said its Media and Entertainment Institute would work directly with industry leaders and partner organizations to advocate for content that illustrates the full diversity of Jewish life and the nuanced characters that Jews embody, to offer a well-rounded portrayal of Jewish culture, religion and history. The institute will rest on five pillars of methodology: publishing research; establishing guidelines and best practices around developing Jewish characters; educating about antisemitism, Jewish representation and storytelling to industry professionals; granting recognition and accountability to Jewish portrayals; and developing partnerships to ensure authentic representation of all marginalized groups.

ADL’s history with Hollywood goes back to its founding in 1913, addressing stereotypes, negative portrayals and antisemitism in film and on stage. In 2021, it formed a first-of-its-kind partnership with United Talent Agency to advance its efforts to combat bigotry. Earlier this year, the ADL also launched an Entertainment Leadership Council, bringing together senior figures in the industry to “fight hate in society.”

In his speech, Greenblatt cited ADL surveys that have shown that nearly one-third of Americans claim that they know no Jews; that people hear anti-Jewish comments from TV, movies and pop culture more than other sources; and that viewers who consume content that includes Jewish stereotypes are more likely to harbor antisemitic views.

After attending the Museum of Motion Pictures’ 2022 gala, Greenblatt was among the Jewish community leaders who criticized the lack of Jewish representation in its exhibitions despite Hollywood’s significantly Jewish origins. Subsequently, Greenblatt co-authored a piece with Academy Museum CEO Bill Kramer in The Hollywood Reporter explaining why such representation is important.

“The nascent motion pictures industry was exciting and innovative, but it provided another avenue for familiar tired allegations of Jewish control, promoted by vaudeville and cartoons often depicting Jews as Shylocks,” Greenblatt said in his speech on Tuesday night. Low-budget “Jew movies” were produced in this era at the rate of one every two weeks, depicting Jews as miserly, carnal and criminal, he said. It took Carl Laemmle, the president of Universal, to declare that his company would no longer use films that ridiculed Jews to end that film trend, he added.

“With Jewish names flashing on the screen, Hollywood became the new avenue for us to be accepted and seen for who we are, our gifts, our culture, our humor; and most importantly, entertainment developed into one of the key industries where Jewish Americans could find success and a seat at the table, contributing to American popular culture,” Greenblatt said.

Greenblatt also criticized social media platforms, saying they act as “a super spreader” for antisemitism. “Unfortunately, amplifying antisemitism online guarantees that it’s going to show up in the real world,” Greenblatt said, noting the nearly 4,000 antisemitic incidents the ADL tracked across America last year. This was a 36% increase over the prior year, with 518 of them in California, and 237 taking place in Los Angeles.

“We want to work with the other talent agencies, studio heads, industry leaders and partner organizations to advocate for content that shows viewers the full diversity of Jewish life and the nuanced characters that Jews embody,” Greenblatt said. “Because remember: antisemitism starts with the Jews, but it never ends with the Jews.” 

Kramer said that the upcoming Hollywoodland exhibition at the Academy Museum will highlight the stories of the largely Jewish early immigrant communities that helped shape the infrastructure of Hollywood and explore why L.A. became its center. 

“As we witnessed an alarming rise in antisemitic sentiment and crime across the U.S., it’s clear to us that this is an essential time to tell Hollywood’s origin story, more than ever,” Kramer said. “It is so important to focus on the Jewish trailblazers who founded Hollywood to discover how they seized an incredible opportunity in a rapidly growing film industry to make a name for themselves as well as to entertain and to innovate… at a time when many doors in America remain close to Jewish individuals due to widespread antisemitism.”

“As CEO of the academy, of course, I deeply believe that movies are the most universal artwork,” Kramer said. “They offer shared experiences, encourage dialogue and cultural understanding, and allow people to see themselves reflected in our art forms: this is why representation in film is critical.”