Why ‘Unorthodox’ Producers ‘Only Cast Jewish Actors for Jewish Roles’ in the New Netflix Series

The new Netflix miniseries Unorthodox premiered last month. The show, which has been increasing in interest on the streaming platform, is a story told in four episodes. The plot is based on a book written by Deborah Feldman. The memoir, published in 2012, is called Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. A producer recently told Variety why it was important for them to cast Jewish actors for Jewish characters in Unorthodox.

Unorthodox author
Deborah Feldman, author, of Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots | Christophe Gateau/picture alliance via Getty Images

‘Unorthodox’ producers cast Jewish people behind and in front of the camera

Anna Winger was one of the new Netflix series’ producers. She talked to Variety recently about why she wanted to cast Jewish actors for many of the main roles. The publication reported:

Winger and German co-writer Alexa Karolinski, who are both Jewish, sought to involve Jewish talent in front and behind the camera for a number of reasons.

Winger said they made a “decision that we would only cast Jewish actors in Jewish roles, in part because of the language.” Many of the characters in Unorthodox speak a very specific dialect of Yiddish. The actor who plays the lead, Shira Haas, spoke the language, but still had to learn the “dialect spoken in Williamsburg.”

Netflix
Netflix | Chesnot/Getty Images

“We wanted people who either spoke Yiddish or had a familiarity with it, had a feeling for the language,” the Unorthodox producer explained. “If your grandparents spoke it, then you have a feeling for it.”

Winger explained how filming the Netflix mini-series episodes in Germany affected their casting decision

The producer also told Variety what it meant that the Netflix show was “producing this in Germany.” It made the decision to cast Jewish actors was essential. Germany, Winger explained, has “a long tradition of [making] obviously Jewish material that has been produced without any Jews involved.”

The Unorthodox producer continued: “there have been many films and TV projects that have been made here about Jewish history where nobody on either side of the camera was Jewish.” That’s why this casting choice was so significant for Unorthodox.

She also talked about exploring some of the historical aspects of the Hasidic Jewish community portrayed in Unorthodox.

“This is a community that is a post-Holocaust revival, a community that was founded by Holocaust survivors,” Winger shared. “We definitely speak to that.” The cast and crew being Jewish, in telling a Jewish story, was important for the creators of Unorthodox.

“In every respect this is a very integrated diaspora project,” Winger explained. “Jews of all stripes were involved in making this TV show.”

The show aired on Mar. 26 of this year.