Helen Mirren wades into 'alarming' cancel culture debate amid backlash for latest film role: 'Ridiculous'

Helen Mirren wades into 'alarming' cancel culture debate amid backlash for latest film role: 'Ridiculous'

Helen Mirren addressed backlash to latest film in BBC interview

Alex Davies

By Alex Davies

Published: 03/10/2023

- 00:02

The Oscar-winning actress portrays former Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, in an upcoming biopic

Helen Mirren has had her say on the "authoritarianism" and cancel culture creeping into the arts in regards to creators being told what they can and cannot write or perform about.

The 78-year-old, whose CV boasts almost six decades' worth of acting credits, has faced criticism for being cast in the role of Jewish former Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir in the biopic, Golda.

Meir, who died in 1978, served as Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974 and a new biopic is set to hit screens about her time in office, focussing particularly on the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Mirren's participation in the project has sparked a debate about whether it's performative "Jewface" in which a non-Jewish actor depicts a Jewish person.

Bradley Cooper came under similar scrutiny when he took on the role of Leonard Bernstein in Netflix's upcoming biopic, Maestro, and wore a prosthetic nose.

A number of other actors have faced backlash of a similar ilk while other stars have been the ones vocal in their criticism, including in this instance, Maureen Lipman of Mirren.

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in the upcoming biopic


Both Mirren and the film's writer Nicholas Martin have addressed the uproar sparked by her inclusion in Golda, however, and both stand by the decisions made.

Martin claimed the "Jewface" debate wasn't "helpful,” as he hit out: "Helen’s job was to portray Golda authentically, which Golda’s family would say she has.

"A leading Israeli historian said that Helen is 'more Golda than Golda'. I find it very worrying that there is a creeping authoritarianism in entertainment saying you cannot do this or that."

Martin went on to rhetorically muse if he was supposed to solely "write about middle-aged men living in south London" before Mirren weighed in with her thoughts.

She added to Radio Times: "The whole issue of casting has exploded out of the water fairly recently. I’ve had other Jewish roles but not an uber-Jewish role like Golda Meir.

"I did tell Guy (Nativ) [director] that I’m not Jewish, in case he thought I was," she continued before even stating that she would've left the project if the film's director had thought it an issue.

Addressing the "creeping authoritarianism" Martin brought up and the cancellation that may ensue if it's defied, Mirren explained: "I think, in a way, that it’s more frightening for a writer to be told they are not allowed to write about subjects with which they don’t have an immediate DNA connection.

"I imagine it must be very alarming. And ridiculous," she concluded.

Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren was speaking in this week's Radio Times


Golda Meir

Golda Meir was Israel's fourth Prime Minister


This isn't the first time Mirren has spoken publicly about the reaction to her inclusion in Golda, speaking to the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg about the film and referencing Cooper's portrayal in Maestro.

"I think the whole question of assuming a certain physiognomy because you're playing a particular race, there is something offensive about that," she told the presenter.

"On the other hand, if you're playing Leonard Bernstein and this is really what Leonard Bernstein looked like, you know, maybe it's a good idea.

"As I say, it's a very delicate balance," Mirren stated.

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