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The Journey of Swell Ariel Or: Embracing Sephardic Representation in "The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem"

CEO Tinh Phung
In the wake of its second season, the Israeli sensation "The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem" continues to captivate audiences worldwide. Based on Sarit Yishai-Levi's best-selling novel, this period drama delves into the lives of the...

In the wake of its second season, the Israeli sensation "The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem" continues to captivate audiences worldwide. Based on Sarit Yishai-Levi's best-selling novel, this period drama delves into the lives of the Sephardic Ermoza family in Jerusalem, spanning three generations. It explores the profound societal changes and romantic destinies of the characters under Ottoman rule and British Mandate Palestine. Swell Ariel Or, who plays Luna in the series, recently sat down with Unpacked to discuss her experience with the show, the importance of Sephardic representation, and the impact she hopes to make.

"Beauty Queen of Jerusalem" Welcomes Or to the Acting World

Swell Ariel Or plays Luna in “Beauty Queen of Jerusalem” Image: Swell Ariel Or plays Luna in “Beauty Queen of Jerusalem” (Courtesy: yes studios)

Or's journey in the world of acting began when she was just 21 years old and cast as Luna in "Beauty Queen of Jerusalem." While serving in the IDF's technology division, she dedicated her one night off per week to an acting course with Doron Ben David, star of "Fauda." This experience ignited her passion and led her to pursue acting professionally. Despite facing rejection from most agents, Or persevered and eventually landed her first acting gig, which happened to be a leading role in one of Israel's most ambitious television projects. Collaborating with renowned actors like Michael Aloni and Hila Saada proved both challenging and enriching for Or, who admitted feeling stressed but grateful for the cast's support and guidance.

Authentically Depicting Life in British Mandate Palestine

To authentically portray Luna and the era she lived in, Or immersed herself in 1930s Hollywood films and explored the works of prominent musicians, poets, and fashion icons of the time, particularly those popular in the Middle East. The image of Luna as a rebellious character, born ahead of her time and following her dreams despite societal constraints, resonates with many viewers who also feel the desire to be themselves in a world defined by tradition and expectations. Or goes above and beyond to fully embody her character, journaling Luna's daily experiences and seeking a deep understanding of her inner thoughts and reactions.

Paving the Way for Diverse Jewish Stories

"Beauty Queen of Jerusalem" stands out as one of the first television shows to depict Sephardic Jews and their vibrant culture against the backdrop of historical tensions between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, as well as ongoing conflicts between Jews, Arabs, and the British. The series showcases a mix of Hebrew, English, Arabic, and Ladino, a language traditionally spoken by Sephardic Jews. Or believes that the show's representation of the Sephardic community is a crucial step toward highlighting diverse narratives of Jewish history in TV and film. She has received overwhelming support from isolated Jewish communities worldwide, who yearn to see their own stories represented on screen, just as the Sephardic community has been.

Delving into Mizrahi and Sephardic Distinctions

Acting in "Beauty Queen of Jerusalem" allowed Or to explore her own heritage as she delved into the intricate distinctions between Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews. Noticing the similarities between the flavorful, spice-rich Sephardic cuisine and Mizrahi food, she also discovered how Sephardic traditions incorporate European influences. Growing up in Tel Aviv with both Sephardic and Ashkenazi heritage, Or observed the dynamics between the two groups and hopes that the progress made in bridging the divide will serve as a valuable lesson for others.

Changing Perceptions through "The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem"

"The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem" has gained international acclaim, earning four awards from the Israeli Television Academy and becoming a top show on Netflix. Beyond its captivating characters and storylines, Or hopes that the series will shed light on under-discussed aspects of Israeli history. She aims to offer viewers a glimpse into what Israel looked like before the Holocaust and to provide a unique perspective on the fight for a Jewish state from the residents of British Mandate Palestine. By showcasing interactions with the wider Middle East and the early phases of Israeli international relations, the series lays the foundation for a better understanding of Israel and its people.

An Advocate for Israeli Culture and Artistic Talent

As an Israeli actress, Or feels a personal responsibility to represent Israel and its culture on the global stage. She sees herself as an ambassador, using her platform to educate and uplift fellow Israeli artists. While she plans to explore opportunities in Hollywood, her bond with Israel remains unbreakable. Or dreams of bringing an Academy Award home to Israel, following in the footsteps of Natalie Portman and Guy Naativ. She firmly believes that Israeli cinema deserves recognition and is committed to showcasing the tremendous artistic talent her home country has to offer.

In conclusion, Swell Ariel Or's portrayal of Luna in "The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem" showcases the importance of diverse storytelling and representation in the media. Through her dedication and passion, she brings her character and the Sephardic community to life, shedding light on underrepresented narratives in Israeli history. Or's journey serves as an inspiration, reminding us of the power of art and storytelling to bridge cultural divides and create meaningful connections.