A couple of years ago, the DC Comics character Jon Kent, the son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane and, at the time, the new Superman, came out as bisexual. There was a whole thing about it, with the conservative press erupting into a predictable uproar and people declaring they would boycott DC Comics forever — all the usual nonsense. “Superman is not gay!” they would cry. “This ruins my childhood!” was another good one. Totally absurd and insulting, while also hilarious in its absurdity.
That it was Jon Kent and not Clark Kent, the original Superman who would, of course, return to the comics after a brief hiatus, was completely beside the point. These idiots saw “Superman likes to kiss men!” and they lost their minds.
The whole thing lasted longer than it should have, but eventually, it died down, as these ridiculous things always do, and all the while, I thought repeatedly of the great line from Caddyshack when Rodney Dangerfield‘s Al Czervik tells his Japanese friend of the country club where they’re about to play golf, “I think this place is restricted, Wang, so don’t tell ’em you’re Jewish.”
That’s the thing about Superman that most people don’t get. He’s Jewish. Always has been. I mean, sure, it’s not something that has ever been overt, but it’s been there since the beginning, and I can only imagine the uproar if these same talking heads stopped to consider it.
It’s common knowledge that the first real superhero was created by a couple of Jewish teenagers from Cleveland — Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — but what is less known is how much Jewish culture, mysticism, and identity went into the character’s creation. Siegel and Shuster came up with Superman as an avatar for themselves in response to the rise of the Nazis in Europe and the era’s pervasive antisemitism. They gave him the Hebraic name of Kal-El. They had him fight those Nazis abroad and the Ku Klux Klan at home. They played up his alien origins and sense of isolation and gave him a nebbishy alter ego from which he could bust out whenever needed. He’s a partially assimilated immigrant who escaped a dying world and, like Moses, was raised by non-Jewish parents and eventually used his superpowers (literally in his case, magical ones for Moses) to save his people.
There’s more — like how Siegel and Shuster factored in the Golem of Jewish myth, a creature of enormous strength meant to defend Jews in the Holy Roman Empire, as well as Zishe Breitbart, the Jewish strongman of the 1920s. Both were a big part of pop culture at the time (again, antisemitism) — but you get the gist. It’s simply undeniable that the Man of Steel is a Member of the Tribe.
So it was enormously satisfying to learn that the new Superman, the one who will replace Henry Cavill on the big screen in James Gunn‘s 2025 reboot known as Superman: Legacy, is himself a Jew. David Corenswet is a six-foot, four-inch adonis with the appropriate dark hair, prominent chin, and sculpted physique required to play the role. He’s also the progeny of immigrants who came over from Europe 160 years ago and settled in New Orleans. His dad, who died in 2019, was a lawyer and an important member of his Synagogue in the Big Easy.
Corenswet is the first Jewish actor to play a live-action Superman, which isn’t surprising, but it is deeply meaningful. It’s also incredibly important and cannot be easily dismissed as happenstance. I don’t necessarily think that Gunn put too much thought into this aspect of Corenswet’s life when he made the decision to cast the young actor, as I know how these things work. Gunn wanted to solve a problem, and Corenswet provided what the director believed to be the best answer. I don’t really believe his cultural or religious identity came into the equation at all.
It may be a coincidence that the guy Gunn chose is Jewish, but Corenswet’s casting comes at a key moment in our culture. I have written about this here before — and been mocked for it by at least a few of you — but antisemitism is on the rise across the globe, and especially here in the U.S. There were more anti-Jewish hate crimes in America last year than at any time in the last 40 years since the Anti-Defamation League began keeping track of such things, and while we suffer, others make fun of it and say we’re overreacting or that we’re at least partially to blame for our own plight. Jews have always been easy targets for others looking for someone to blame, and when I say “always,” I mean literally always, for more than 5,000 years since Abraham first entered into a covenant with a deity and in the process created monotheism.
For millennia, people have persecuted Jews. Multiple genocides have been attempted, with at least a couple of them almost succeeding, and yet we’re still here. Less than a century after the last one, antisemitism is once again on the march, and Jews are once again being scapegoated for the troubles of others, regardless of the lack of veracity. Conspiracy theories abound, and at the center of just about all of them is some kind of Jewish cabal in control of everything sinister in the believers’ lives.
Now, do I think that a Jewish actor being cast as the Man of Steel is going to change any of that? Of course not. I’m not Pollyanna. But it is absolutely a step in the right direction.
Why? Well, for starters, just as Siegel and Shuster saw their creation as an avatar fighting on their behalf, so can Jewish people look to the big screen and see one of their own flying through the skies of Metropolis and fighting for truth, justice, and the American Way. Superman is the perfect specimen because he’s the Man of Tomorrow — a beacon of hope for those looking for such a symbol. It doesn’t matter that he’s not real, for he represents something that very much is.
On top of that, there is something akin to an enormous raised middle finger for those who hate us and will soon see that same symbol of perfection played by a Jewish man on the big screen. Again, Corenswet’s casting isn’t going to change a whole lot, but it’s not nothing, either.
Since I was a small child, I have read comic books and been entranced by superheroes. When I was seven, Christopher Reeve donned the blue tights and thrilled me and millions of others by delivering on the promise that “You will believe a man can fly.” 16 months ago, I wrote 1600 words about how Robert Pattinson and Matt Reeves had given me the Batman movie I had literally waited my whole life to see. In spite of that, I don’t honestly think it ever occurred to me before how happy it would make me to see Superman played by a Jewish actor. It doesn’t even matter that it’s two years away, just the fact that it’s happening at all is incredible. I consider it a movie mitzvah from James Gunn, who himself is of Jewish descent despite being raised Catholic.
A superhero movie isn’t going to solve the world’s problems or suddenly bring an end to antisemitism or even temper it all that much, to be perfectly honest. But when that movie opens on July 11, 2025, and we see Clark Kent take off his glasses, don his cape, and take to the skies, it will mean something. A Jewish man playing the greatest hero of them all? A hero conceived 85 years ago by a couple of Jewish kids who created him as an answer to what was happening to the world around them and never could have imagined this?
It will mean something, and we will, at long last, believe a Jewish man can fly.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for more than 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.