When it comes to content that could offend people with certain religious or ethnocultural identities, directors need to consider whether their choices serve a purpose or just perpetuate harmful stereotypes.
While using religious imagery can strengthen a film’s story or message, many directors don’t realize how their thoughtlessness makes their work falls short.
Take the 2020 movie Yes, God, Yes directed by Karen Maine.
According to the IMDb synopsis, this film explores what happens after a civil internet conversation with a stranger turns risqué. Alice, played by Natalia Dyer, is a cross-wearing Catholic teenager battling to control her new sexual urges in the face of everlasting damnation.
Alice learns about herself during her sexual awakening and reflects on how her sexuality fits into her Catholic upbringing. Maine emphasizes the commitment that many Catholics make to waiting for marriage to have intercourse.
Yes, God, Yes is an example of an appropriate use of religion and religious symbols in film. The use of a cross necklace makes sense and serves a purpose: to respectfully establish Dyer’s character through Alice’s religion.
Do Revenge, a recent Netflix original film, misses the mark.
In the film, directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, high school girls Drea (Camila Mendes) and Eleanor (Maya Hawke) seek revenge on those who have wronged them. The film’s premise reads like a straightforward, typical high school movie.
There are no religious plot points at all. It’s a standard teen drama, centered on betrayal and retribution, yet its creators chose to unnecessarily insert harmful religious stereotypes.
The depiction of Mendes’ boyfriend Max, played by Austin Abrams, reflects how religion is wrongfully portrayed in Do Revenge through harmful Jewish stereotypes.
Max wears a Star of David necklace at several points in the movie, and even says the Yiddish word “kvell” in conversation. Yet, his religion isn’t relevant to the plot.
Max is the popular golden boy of high school, acting as a Senior Class President, who is praised by the school as he claims to oppose the patriarchy and support women’s rights. Throughout the film, we learn he comes from an extremely wealthy family and is a greedy, cheating womanizer.
We can’t know if there were malicious, antisemitic undertones involved in the writing and portrayal of Max’s character. Nonetheless, his character needlessly feeds into stereotypes of Jewish people being greedy. His Jewishness in no way serves the story.
This film is a prime example of a director failing to take responsibility for their decisions and make the intentions of their work clear.
Robinson could have saved everyone the trouble and not have made the Star of David part of Max’s wardrobe. It, when combined with his characterization, further exacerbates the criticism Judaism already receives as a religion. We need to hold directors accountable.
Religion is sensitive and should be handled delicately—especially in film.
Skylar is a second-year politics student and one of The Journal’s Assistant News Editors.
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