For years, Hollywood’s approach to depicting Hasidic Jews on screen has largely consisted of dying the hair of blond actresses brown. See: Renee Zellweger in Boaz Yakin’s “A Price Above Rubies” and Melanie Griffith deep undercover in Sidney Lumet’s “A Stranger Among Us.”
For “Holy Rollers,” director Kevin Asch and writer Antonio Macia’s take on a young Hasid’s rise and fall in the world of drug smuggling, the filmmakers were determined to portray modern Hasidic communities as realistically as possible. They asked the cast to study with a dialect coach to learn Hebrew prayers and shot in a Hasidic area of Brooklyn.
“Most films feature outsiders looking in, whereas our film features a character that’s inside looking out,” says Asch. “Antonio and I are well aware of how Hasids have been objectified in entertainment. They’ve rarely been captured in a way in which they’re portrayed as real and human. Maybe on ‘Law & Order,’ but they’re either the bad guy or the guy who’s seriously messed up in some way.”
To prepare himself, Asch says he looked at both “A Price Above Rubies” and “A Stranger Among Us.” Of the latter film he said: “It’s hard for me to put down Sidney Lumet, because he’s Sidney Lumet, but the Hasidic community ultimately felt objectified in both of those films.”
“I wanted to take down that sensationalism,” Asch said.