OK, so Jill Soloway’s new book, She Wants It, which I blurbed, opens the doors to the backstory of how a BDS campaign influenced Transparent, ie US corporate television, for the first time. And while Jill and I have completely different lenses and focuses and details, we agree on the key facts: Transparent was profoundly affected by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement due to Jill’s willingness to talk, listen, and rethink.
So since they address these events in their book, here are the bare bones facts as I understand them: At some point Jill decided that Season Four would be shot in Israel. Despite objections from some people inside the Transparent apparatus, they planned on bringing the actors and crew to Israel to film, and I believe that Amazon higher ups had approved this plan, that in fact the location scouting had begun.
The problem was that there is a Boycott of Israel, called in 2005 by the Palestine Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a nonviolent strategy to face down Israeli violence with international boycotts of everything having to do with the Israeli State. What made the specter of Transparent violating the boycott such a crisis, was that it had the extra special problem of Pinkwashing – legitimzing the Israeli status quo through queer images. The nightmare of all of the Pinkwashing that would accompany Transparent in Israel was really scary. It would have been used to display Israel falsely as a seat of tolerance, while Palestinians are murdered daily, and apartheid laws escalate with regularity. It would have associated trans people with apartheid, and set us all back.
I received an email alerting me to this situation, and I immediately went to Jewish Voice for Peace, where I sit on the Advisory Board. I wrote to Jill and asked them for a conversation, spoke to people inside Transparent who did not want the show to film in Israel, and had been bringing in information internally. For the next 3 months a campaign of conversation was organized.
Now, as someone who does this kind of thing regularly, usually the people we are trying to talk to are very, very hostile. They usually claim that they are being assaulted or abused by us wanting to talk about Israeli apartheid- you know, the perpetrator acting like a victim. Usually they refuse to talk at all, or maybe have a perfunctory conversation in which they are actually not listening.
Not Jill. They not only agreed to talk, they reached out to other BDS supporters for conversations. IN fact, Jill had conversations with a range of Jewish Voice for Peace activists, as well as Palestinians in America, and they even had contact with Omar Barghouti, of PACBI in Palestine.
And not only were they open to these conversations, they actually listened and started to internalize the issues. But, I think the real turning point was when Jill received a private letter from 23 trans activists, sent by Dean Spade, supporting Palestinian human rights and asking her to not film in Israel.
As a result – despite all their original plans- Jill was not rigidly fixed, and dramatically changed the conditions for Transparent Season Four. Instead of filming in Israel, they shot the whole season in LA, finding LA landscapes that looked like Israel/Palestine. Not a single actor was sent to Israel. As far as I understand, they built a fake Wailing Wall on a lot at Paramount. Unfortunately, from my point of view, they did film location and cut-away shots in Israel, without any actors. I had suggested using archival footage instead, and I wish they had been fully consistent in honoring the Palestinian call. However, shooting all the live scenes in LA was a significant action, and a real recognition.
When I watched Season Four, I saw a lot of representation that I had never seen before on corporate television. They showed story and character that included Queer Palestinians, they showed Black/Palestinian solidarity, they showed the insanity of checkpoints.
When I ran into Jill almost a year later, I said “Thank you for changing your mind.” And my impression is that the 30-35 people who I know of directly, who were involved in this campaign, felt that it was a positive outcome.
If more people with real power were willing to listen and talk and go through a process towards change, we would be getting a lot farther, a lot faster. And as my own experience of this movement showed me, Palestinian and Palestine solidarity activists are always available to talk.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Sarah Schulman’s Facebook page on October 18, 2018. A preview of parts of the relevant sections of She Wants It can be viewed here and the book can be purchased here.