After three and a half years in the making, “The Chosen People?” is ready for its Akron premiere
by Gray Giaconia
Josh Gippin was born and raised Jewish, but he doesn’t view himself as “chosen.” The disconnect between Gippin’s beliefs and his religious upbringing led him to make “The Chosen People? A Film about Jewish Identity.” This documentary critically addresses the idea central to the Jewish faith: that the Jews are God’s chosen people, something that Gippin has found “really problematic.” Gippin believes that all humans are equal, and we are all important.
“What makes me so special in God’s eyes, just because I was born a certain way?” Gippin asks. “It shouldn’t be about that; it should be about the way we live our lives.”
The documentary features interviews with some of the world’s foremost experts and scholars, as well as Akron-area clergy (both Jewish and non-Jewish) and local people who do or have practiced Judaism. The film questions the core of Jewish identity. It asks whether any single religion claim chosen-ness over all others, how the “chosen people” idea affects Jewish relations with Christians and Muslims, what the “chosen people” idea has in common with other supremacy ideologies such as white supremacy and whether scripture should be interpreted literally or metaphorically. It questions psychological implications of viewing oneself as chosen, and what it means to form a covenant with God. Many subsequent questions are prompted by questioning this long-held belief of the Jewish faith, and “The Chosen People?” addresses them with the intent to discover what it truly means to be chosen.
“It’s a complicated topic, but it affects all of our lives in real ways,” Gippin says.
In the film, Gippin captures a wide range of responses to the question: “What do you think about the idea that the Jews are God’s Chosen People?” from people of different religious backgrounds.
“You’ll get very different answers depending on whether you ask a Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, or secular Jew; a different answer entirely if you ask an Evangelical Christian or a Muslim,” Gippin says.
Gippin has definitely experienced pushback from family and friends who don’t agree with him. “It’s an emotionally charged topic for those who believe it to be true,” he says. “Others are embarrassed by it and would rather continue to brush it under the rug.”
Gippin admits that this was an extremely difficult topic to tackle. He spent the whole first year just reading. The film had to remain entirely independent in order for him to tell the story he told, and because the topic was so controversial, it was difficult to secure funding for the film.
As if that weren’t enough, Gippin faced some pretty big obstacles in his personal life while making the film. “Among other things, I was diagnosed and treated for lymphoma,” Gippin says. “That set me back.”
Despite the challenges, Gippin kept going, and after three and a half years, he’s ready for the June premiere. Now that this film is complete, what does Gippin have planned next?
“Entirely depends on how well this film does,” he says. “If it doesn’t make any money, then I’ll have to find another way to support my family. If I can justify continuing to make films, then I’ll keep tackling the big issues—the ones I feel keep humanity chained.”