(JTA) — In the hit show “The Sopranos,” veteran actor Jerry Adler plays Jewish-adjacent businessman Hesh Rabkin, who made his fortune in the music business decades earlier. In the first episode of the season, rapper Hesh seeks “reparations” from a late black musician who says Rabkin didn’t pay enough for a hit record.
When Hesh responds by boasting that he wrote hit songs back in the day, Tony Soprano corrects him: “A couple of black kids wrote this record, you got co-writing credit because you owned the label.”
The greedy Jewish music mogul has been a common trope, invoked from the work of Spike Lee to the rants of Kanye West. “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” a 2003 parody of the musical biopic, mocked the same trope by making an executive assessment of Hasidic Jews, led by Harold Ramis. (They were portrayed as friendly and not so greedy, and the film’s writers, Judd Apatow, and the director, Jake Kasdan, are both Jewish).
The new movie “Spinning Gold,” which opens in theaters next week, tells the real-life story of Neil Bogart, the founder of Casablanca Records and the top music executive of the 1970s. group, and the character of the music mogul — in this case, another Jew — is not discussed. dishonestly
A Jewish Brooklyn native whose name was Neil Scott Bogatz helped promote early pop and disco music, signing artists such as Donna Summer, Gladys Knight, Cher and the Village People. His signature rock was Kiss. In one scene of “Spinning Gold,” Bogart’s character (played by Jewish actor Jeremy Jordan, who starred in the Broadway hit “Stone Age”) hints that he signed to Kiss’ Gene Simmons’ band in part because Simmons’ and guitarist Paul Stanley’s real names are Chaim Witz and Stanley Eisen. The film tells the story of them as Jewish roommates who are called from the outer boroughs of New York. Bogart died of cancer in 1982.
The film covers a long span of Bogart’s life and career, showing him struggling for many years before striking gold with Donna Summer’s reigning single “Love to Love You Baby” to hit status. Timothy Scott Bogart, the son of the mogul and director of the film, did not want to portray Bogart as an unequivocal hero. In the story, the elder Bogart is shown cheating on his first wife with the woman who would become his second, and the film also reveals that his title record has been heavily burdened for many years. At times he shows that he is out of touch with his genius, as when his partners are kissing, he did not take Bogart’s protection for him.
“I don’t know if he looked at me as the protagonist or the antagonist, I think he was a little bit of both,” Timothy Scott Bogart told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“But I think the quality of the executive, in general, was a much-maligned character…certainly in the world of musical biopics,” he added. “He’s not the Bogart that he was.”
He added that the personal relationships between his father and the artists of the label were always valued. He remembers his family going on vacation with Donna Summer, and Gladys Knight and the members of Kiss being at his house.
The younger Bogart, who previously produced the 2019 Vietnam War drama “The Last Full Measure,” said that rather than relying on any book or article, he built the film on interviews he conducted with artists, executives and others involved in the story. for several years.
Jews were part of the business that was the largest American industry in existence in music, partly because of the way they were excluded from many professions before the middle of the 20th century. Music Executive Seymour Stein who passed this week After a long career working with the likes of Madonna and the Ramones, he said in a 2013 interview, “Music is something that Jews are good at and can do. All immigrants to America have tried their show-business.”
Some performers in the early days of the music industry, Jewish and non-Jewish, used their artists to do everything they could to avoid paying black artists, to deny them song credits or royalties. Moguls of the past name with a reputation for this are included Hermann Lubinsky of Savoy Records. Others, like the recently deceased Stein et milt gabler a more comfortable table of fame. Historians have different opinions about particular people.
“There is a literary controversy among those who look at the Moguls and say that they have gained [Black] musicians and who say they encourage and black success in music is possible,” said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American history at Brandeis University. “They both use the same data, but some show that money was made by Jews, while others show musicians who were discovered and promoted by Jews.”
Spike Lee drew fire for his portrayal of Jewish music executives Moe and Josh Flatbush (played by John and Nicholas Turturro) in his 1990 film “Mo’ Better Blues.”
“In the history of American music, weren’t there Jewish races overwhelming black musicians?” Spike Lee said in defense New York Magazine in 2006. “In music history? Why is this being stereotypical? “
Other “bad guy” examples include Paul Giamatti’s Jerry Heller in 2015’s “Straight Outta Compton” and David Krumholtz’s Milt Shaw in 2004’s “Ray.” “Cadillac Records” from 2008 stars Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, the legendary Jewish founder of Chess Records who, implicated in the film, gave his mostly black artists Cadillacs, but not always the money they were owed. “Get Up,” the 2014 biopic of James Brown that recently starred Chadwick Boseman, Fred Melamed cast Cincinnati mogul Syd Nathan (Seymour Stein’s mentor); journalist RJ Smith criticized the film to portraying Nathan in “bumptious racist.
Actor Seth Rogen discussed the trope in his 2011 memoir “Yearbook.” It tells the story of the career of Eddie Griffin, a comedian who had been working late in his career to get a movie role. Griffin told Rogen to “Tell your Jews to let other people make some movies!”
Rogen called this “insane because he really doesn’t know that if there’s one thing the Jewish people aren’t above, it’s making money that’s ahead of the Black people.” Anyone who’s ever seen a biopic of a black musician, the character I’m talking about, and he was played very well by my dear friend David Krumholtz.” (Krumholtz was one of the Hasidic producers on “Walk Hard.”)
“It is certainly true that in the US music industry after the war, Jews were more likely to be producers and impresarios than performers. And, given the importance of African-Americans in the post-war US music industry, that inevitably created a special kind of relationship with some Jews in the music industry,” sociologist and music critic Keith Kahn-Harris told JTA.
“That relationship begins to be subjugated and tossed from the late 1960s, when the civil rights movement crumbled and people of color began to assert their agency,” he added. “It’s also really a post-war music industry in a disorderly space with an almost normative pattern of abuse.” Put all that together and you have all the ingredients for a significant African-American-Jewish conflict. Plus, the predatory impresario of Jews sits easily with including antisemitic stereotypes.
“The Gold Stand” is not the only example that goes against the trend in the movie. Last year’s Whitney Houston biopic “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” the title honcho of the Jewish character, Clive Davis (played by Stanley Tucci), is treated in a benevolent light. In this case, Davis was among the producers of the film.
Jewish authors, like all music promoters, were and are the first and foremost businessmen who sell the product. Purpose: to promote the practice of realizing income. Actors seem to have a different chance in the business, although each depends on the other,” Hasia Diner, an American professor of history at New York University, American.
“If the hero of the film is a performance, then his/her perspective is the focus and almost by definition the author’s perspective must reflect the opposition’s encounter. Is it rightly called antisemitism? Not at my price. Doing so undermines the real antisemitism. It also ignores the inherent business behavior,” said Diner .
How can filmmakers navigate this?
“It’s a big concern,” Kahn-Harris said. “This means paying attention to how such a description can be accurate and not feeding deeper antisemitic stereotypes. No one can do this. It requires care and attention to the history of the event.”