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‘The School for Good and Evil’: Blatant Antisemitism or a Simple Depiction of a Witch?

Netflix might be in trouble with this one.

'The School for Good and Evil': Blatant Antisemitism or a Simple Depiction of a Witch?

Netflix adapted Soman Chainani’s novel, ‘The School for Good and Evil‘, into their latest fantasy film and people are not happy with one of the scenes.

I do want to start by saying that the film has an incredible cast. Director Paul Feig is known for his other films such as ‘A Simple Favour’, ‘Last Christmas’, and, of course, ‘Bridesmaids’. The actors include Kit Young, Cate Blanchett, and Sophia Anna Caruso. Sofia Wylie, best known for her role in High School Musical: The Musical series, is also brilliant in this.

The film follows the story of two friends, Sophie and Agatha, who are whisked away to The School for Good and Evil. Sophie is the typical portrayal of a future princess – until she ends up in The School for Evil. After spending a considerable amount of time there, she undergoes a transformation that leaves her looking like a stereotypical witch.

And by the stereotypical witch, I mean she looks exactly like the witches that we see in fairytales. She becomes wrinkly, her nose grows to twice the size of her face and becomes hooked, and her hair turns frizzy and long. People are mad because she looks like an antisemitic caricature. Fans of the book did point out that the transformation in the novel did not say anything about her nose changing. This was a decision made by the filmmakers.

The school for good and evil
Sophie’s transformation / Netflix

One user on Twitter said ‘Let’s talk about how the school for good and evil played into antisemitic tropes to show that Sophie turned evil.’ Another said ‘School for Good and Evil is antisemitic so for those who are sensitive to that content I don’t think you should watch it.’

The History Behind the Witch

There is so much history surrounding the trope of the stereotypical witch. The entire concept of the witch was based around the Jewish woman praying on the young Christian girl. This idea was prominent in Nazi Germany and their propaganda too.

However, the image of the witch has been around for far longer. Let’s not forget the witch hunts which occurred from the 15th century through to the 18th century. A witch was anyone with a blemish, mole, or mark and they were put on trial. This was not just a war waged on the Jewish, but on all women.

Then there is the fairy tale witch. She has been around since the 19th century.

It is also important to consider that the features of a stereotypical image of a witch (big nose, frizzy/ curly hair, and moles) do not only feature stereotypically assigned to Jewish people. So many people of other ethnicities have these features.

Everett Collection / Shutterstock

Many people did really enjoy the film. They embraced ideas in the film such as no one is truly good or evil, and the idea of friendship being prioritized over romantic relationships.

So do I think Netflix was purposely antisemitic in its depiction of Sophie’s transformation? No. Honestly, they probably just didn’t do their research on the history of the witch. The image of the witch has been around for so long I doubt they thought twice about it. It seems they wanted to present Sophie as a witch in the most conventional way. If anything, it seems they were trying to reverse the role. Sophie is put in the School of Evil for a reason and before her physical transformation which only lasted for a fraction of the film. Overall it’s an enjoyable fantasy film and a good adaptation of the book.

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