Shockingly, there are a lot of Jewish people who will still talk about Israel as, like, our happy-go-lucky homeland.
Transparent, the heavily Jewish, transgender drama, has been widely lauded as the best TV series since Breaking Bad. Much of series 4 is located in Israel and the West Bank. In this interview, the show’s creator Jill Soloway, explains how the series treats the issue of Israel and Palestine.
How did you decide on this narrative structure to think about Israel and Palestine this season?
We like to stay relevant. Especially after Trump is in office. That means taking huge risks and going, “Yeah, we’re going to strap on and get in our flight suits and zoom right to the center of crazy controversy and stand there in that place and feel it like artists.” For me, that meant putting the family all together, ’cause we’d been facing them outwards. That was a creative challenge for me. Just wanting people facing each other, instead of outward.
And then, we facetiously wanted to take the lighthearted notion of the Brady Bunch Goes to Hawaii and be like, “Well, the Pfeffermans, of course they go to Israel!” We wanted to start with that facetious, lighthearted feeling, knowing that, when you’re queer and Jewish, when you’re trans and Jewish, it’s not so simple. And we really wanted the family and Ali to learn at the same rate that the average person would learn.
Shockingly, there are tons of people who aren’t deeply aware of the conflict. There are a lot of Jewish people who will still talk about Israel as, like, our happy-go-lucky homeland. If you’re involved in the queer community, if you’re involved in the academic community, you know the word Israel means something else entirely, and we needed to slowly send these elements on a collision course. The tourist Israel, the academic Israel, the queer Israel. And Ali’s interest and understanding how the binary stops her from feeling whole just felt like a perfect map to laminate onto this region.
How did you cast the Palestinian actors?
We had great, amazing people. Obviously we spoke to people who were part of JVP [Jewish Voices for Peace] and people who were BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] activists. And we met Palestinian activists and we brought as many Palestinian actors into the scene as possible. Sometimes we had to cast people who weren’t Palestinian, but who were Muslim. Some of the people were actors; some of the people were activists. We had Palestinian activists with us there at the farm, because we shot that all here in L.A. We didn’t actually go there.
So we had activists with us, helping to give birth to some of that conversation about checkpoints, about the intricacies of bureaucratic violence. A lot of people think about Israel and they think like, “Gaza, uprising, violence.” What we wanted to tell the story of was what it felt like to be Palestinian and living in Israel and just trying to live your life, having to go through the checkpoints and understanding the occupation, what it’s doing to people day-to-day.
Did you feel like there’s a pedagogical intent in that?
I mean, always. I don’t really try to shy away from that with feminism, with anything, because we’re learning. When people say, “You don’t want to be making propaganda,” I’m like, cis-hetero patriarchy has been making propaganda forever. I love the word propaganda. I had to grow up watching fucking white dudes act like women should be competing for them on the basis of their financial success — that’s propaganda. So I’m gonna make my propaganda until it’s all equal. And people just aren’t open about it, so I’ve heard those criticisms before where they say like, “Well, you don’t want your art to become preachy and I’m like, ‘Beauty pageants are preachy.’” [Laughs.]
Were there any concerns about filtering the Palestinian experience through Ali?
We run into similar things with trans stories, where this is a story about a family, there are five characters, we want to tell Davina’s story. Sometimes it’s told through Maura’s point of view as Maura’s roommate, and sometimes that feels like it works and sometimes it feels inappropriate. So we had to encounter Palestine in a way that the Pfeffermans would. And the way that Ali would, which was starting as a tourist, and like, “Oh, I met this person. Oh, they’re an activist. I’m interested in this person, now I’m learning about the conflict.” We actually kept Ali a little bit more innocent so that she could be a little bit more surprised. We had to play more within the confines of what would be realistic for this family than what we all knew and understood as activists.
What are your own views on Israel?
They’re evolving every day. The simplest thing I can say — and this is true of America as well — is what we’re looking at is a fundamentalist, orthodox religious government. The Israeli government is being run by people who have very fundamentalist views about the binary: “This is Judaism, this is Israel. A Jewish state is Israel. Israel must reflect a Jewish identity.” Well, what is a Jewish identity? What they’re reflecting is an orthodox Jewish identity. I guess I want to hold space for the possibility of a reform or reconstructionist or revivalist or a reinvention of a Jewish identity that could also take up space in politics. In the same way that Trump is our president and will openly act like it’s his Christian mission to protect people against a Muslim threat. He’s using his Christian orthodoxy to inspire people to hatred. They’re doing the same thing there in Israel.
One of the meaning of intersectionality is that even if I wanted to choose between my queerness and my Jewishness, I wouldn’t, I couldn’t. Because of that, I have to dream of this other thing, which is a place where I would be able to say I love Israel. I would be able to say, as a Jew I love the dream of Israel. But as an activist, I love the dream of peace even more, and I actually do believe that all the people who are on the left do actually have a spiritual belief in peace and love and tolerance and acceptance. But because we’re so used to religion being combined with orthodoxy and repression, the people on the left aren’t really saying, “Hey, we stand for something too. We stand for peace. We stand for loving all people. We stand for accepting all people.”
This is an extract from a long interview with Jill Soloway in Vulture. Full article here…