Last night I attended the Los Angeles premier of The Tribe, “an unorthodox, unauthorized history of the Jewish people and the Barbie doll …in about 15 minutes”:
What can the most successful doll on the planet show us about being Jewish today? Narrated by Peter Coyote, the film mixes old school narration with a new school visual style. The Tribe weaves together archival footage, graphics, animation, Barbie dioramas, and slam poetry to take audiences on an electric ride through the complex history of both the Barbie doll and the Jewish people- from Biblical times to present day. By tracing Barbie"s history, the film sheds light on what it means to be an American Jew in the 21st Century.
The Tribe, conceived and directed by Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain, was supported by many of the foundations currently supporting Jewish Emergent, including the Andrea & Charles Bronfman Slingshot Fund, Natan, the Righteous Persons Foundation (via REBOOT), and many others. Consultants on the film included S3K Jewsh Emergent Working Group members Andy Bachman and Amichai Lau-Lavie.
The film probably had its desired effect on me, leaving me with more questions than answers. Very wisely, the film doesn’t ever give a fixed definition of “tribe,” nor does it weigh in on the infamous “Who is a Jew?” debate.
The Barbie motif is an excellent vehicle for talking about assimilation, especially since a Jewish woman designed the doll based on a very blonde postwar German doll called “Lilli.” But while the film addresses assmilation very well, there was a clear European-American emphasis and it left me wondering about Jews who don’t look like Barbie or Ken, and in fact may resemble other Others (I’m thinking of Mizrachi Jews, Sephardi Jews, etc.).
But that’s the point, right? — to get me thinking, and to get Jews talking. And it that it succeeds very well.
It was a provocative film — definitely a conversation-starter, as one of my friends put it. In fact, the producers have created a Tribe “kit” containing a “Guide from the Perplexed” and “Conversation Cards” to trigger an “unorthodox discussion.” Although the “institutional screening” price probably puts the film out of reach for many Jewish Emergent groups, there appears to be a loophole for those showing the film in a private home: for that, the DVD discussion kit costs only $40.
I’ll probably get in trouble with Tribe‘s producers for saying this, but in fact, this loophole is a great excuse both for smaller groups and “establishment synagogues” looking for a creative way to engage 20- and 30-something Jews in their communities. Throw what IKAR calls a “house party,” an effective way to move beyond the walls of the synagogue to have a serious Jewish conversation. (And if the experiment works, go ahead – buy the full institutional package and get the entire congregation involved….)
And yes, you can join the conversation on the Tribe website. But they’re not selling membership: you’ll have to figure out on your own how to be an MOT….