Gentleman’s Agreement follows reporter Philip Green as he comes to New York City and pretends to be Jewish to gain an understanding of anti-Semitism in America for an article. While pretending to be Jewish, he experiences a great deal of discrimination and prejudice, including rejected job applications under a Jewish-sounding name, the mistrust of Jewish professionals, communities restricting Jews, and outward violence towards Jews. Even his son experiences anti-Semitism, being mocked and bullied at school. Green finds out that the same magazine that assigned him the project is not exempt from anti-Semitism when a secretary shares that she is Jewish and was rejected when she applied under her real name. The movie, through Green, poses anti-Semitism as going against American values, a strategy to appeal to viewers. Green’s fiancée, Cathy, proposed the project and knows Green is not actually Jewish, but expresses discomfort with him pretending to be Jewish, insisting that she tell her family the truth. Although she is sympathetic to Jews, she is fearful of what people will think and is still ignorant. A conversation with Dave, Green’s Jewish childhood friend, at the end of the movie helps her understand that when she does not speak up after hateful, anti-Semitic jokes, she is part of the problem. Green also grows to understand anti-Semitism through Dave’s experiences, as Dave gets in an altercation with a man expressing his hatred of Jews in a restaurant and struggles to find housing as a Jew.
I was not sure what to expect from this movie, but I enjoyed it. I think its portrayal of anti-Semitism was fairly good, especially because it demonstrated that even those who claim or seem to be anti-Semitic, like Cathy or the magazine company, may still have latent prejudice. I also think the movie did a good job of demonstrating how rampant anti-Semitism and some of the ways it is expressed or presented. I did not know there were communities restricting Jewish people, but I am not surprised, either. I do think the movie probably simplifies anti-Semitism and bigotry, but I think it is important that it got made because it amplified the issue, and since it apparently won Best Picture at the Oscars, I hope it helped America at large gain a greater understanding of anti-Semitism in the country and to reconsider or think about their own prejudices. In terms of characters, I quite liked Dave and Anne. Cathy irritated me, but I know there are many Cathys in the world, people who claim to not be prejudiced but are still fearful of what others think and do not speak out against injustice, and her character was clearly very important for the story. I had previously only seen Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, and I think he did a great job in this movie too.
I thought it was interesting how the movie continued to push the idea that the anti-Semitic views and racialized discriminatory practices of the characters around Green were antithetical to American values. It is interesting because this can be backed by the fact that equality of all is part of our founding ideology and is codified in our constitution. However, this idea can equally be counteracted by the fact that the ideology of hierarchy has permeated our laws and social interactions since the founding of the country as well. As we saw in the movie as well as studied in class, the freedoms and opportunities people had largely depended on one’s birth. We see these same hierarchical structures still dictate our laws and social interactions today. Ideally, Green would be correct, but in reality racism, prejudice, and discrimination are key components of American ideology.
I appreciate the fact that you took your time to comment on the movie and its characters as a whole before going into your analysis. You’re definitely right, there are a lot of Cathys in the world. As to your comment about being surprised that Jewish communities were restricted like that, especially after America had just finished a war fighting literal Nazis, I get it. Antisemitism is one of the easier-to-hide prejudices out there considering how many Jewish people could technically pass as white. Still, they were subject to some of the first examples of ‘subtle racism’ in America’s history. Honestly, in studying the subtle ways Jewish people were mistreated both systemically and personally, we can learn a lot about the sort of issues darker-skinned minorities face today in America.
I’m glad that you enjoyed it. Gregory Peck did a lot of critical movies in the 1940s.