Unorthodox: The True Story Behind The Hit Netflix Show, Plot And Cast – elle.com

Posted By on April 19, 2020

Unorthodox might be one the best miniseries that Netflix has ever produced. Fine. Weve said it.

Over the last few weeks, the streaming service has kept us entertained with comedy narratives thanks to Sex Education, bizarre twists courtesy of Tiger King and provided us with fashion tips from Next in Fashion.

But we cant remember a time when weve felt so moved and torn by a show like Unorthodox, which is based on a young woman born and raised in Brooklyns Satmar Hasidic Jewish community who runs away to Germany to escape her marriage.

The series is one of Netflix's few series scripted primarily in Yiddish and explores subjects relating to identity, sex, religion, duty and freedom.

The four-episode-long show follows the life of Esther Esty Shapiro a 19-year-old Satmar Jew living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. During the series, she marries a fellow Satmar Jew named Yanky in an arranged marriage. However, a year into their relationship and the pair have yet to have sex, putting pressure on the couple (more so on Esty) to consummate their marriage and start a family.

After one short and painful night when they finally do have sex, Esty finds out she is pregnant on the same day Yanky asks her for a divorce. The teenager subsequently flees to Berlin, Germany where her mother escaped to years before.

Arriving in Berlin, Esty embarks on a mission to gain a scholarship to a music conservatory. However, after learning of her pregnancy, Yanky and his cousin Moishe follow her to Germany to bring her back to the States to continue her marriage.

Yes and no, is the simplest answer.

The plot is based on Deborah Feldmans 2012 memoir, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots.

Similar to Feldman, who grew up in a Hasidic Jewish community in Williamsburg, New York, Esty is raised in a strictly traditional, orthodox community of Judaism.

According to ABC News, Feldman was brought up by her grandparents, who like Estys are Holocaust survivors. The authors father was mentally ill; meanwhile, her mother abandoned her, left the community, and later came out as gay.

In the series, Estys father has a dependency on alcohol and her mother left her at a young age to flee to Germany, where she now lives openly as a lesbian. Feldman also entered a loveless marriage, herself aged 17, and suffered vaginismus (like Esty), meaning sex was incredibly painful.

The greatest social misfortune in this community is infertility, Feldman told Electric Literature. It is grounds for divorce. 'Women who cannot produce children are relegated to the lowest possible position in society, they are seen as completely useless, purposeless, valueless.

However, while Feldman assisted on the show, the filmmakers say that only the characters life in Williamsburg is inspired by Feldmans life. Whereas her life in Berlin is a work of fiction.

We had a lot of discussions about when can you sacrifice accuracy and when not, Feldman told the New York Times. We agreed you can sacrifice accuracy as long as it doesnt impact the narrative.

Like Esty, Feldman got pregnant but left her husband and community in 2009, moving with her son to Manhattan and then on to Germany in 2014.

The Satmar Jews are a community originally from the town of Satmar in Hungary. Nowadays, most are descendants of Holocaust survivors as the community was created by survivors in New York after World War II.

This trauma was a driving force behind the ideological structures of this community, says Feldman on Making Unorthodox.

Their native language is Yiddish.

Remember the name Shira Haas because we have no doubt that shell become an even bigger star after her lead role as Esty in this show.

Haas, 25, is an Israeli actress who plays the 19-year-old and has previously starred in films such as The Zookeeper's Wife and Broken Mirrors.

In an interview with WWD about the role, she said: Sometimes you have as an actor an inner feeling of something thats really right and you want to do it, almost like you need to do it, if there is such thing.

For filming, Haas was required to shave her head a job which took place on the first day of shooting. She was then required to use different wigs during the show and described the process of shaving her hair as liberating.

I have the chance to have it all different lengths, so its a good opportunity actually if you think about it like that, she told the publication.

During the series, the Hebrew-speaking actress was required to speak in Yiddish and English.

I went to sleep with Yiddish and I woke up with Yiddish, she told IndieWire of the challenge of learning the language.

It was so important to me to know my lines well and to know what I was saying, so that when I came to set I wouldnt have to think about it, so I would be able to actually be in the scene. It was a major part of preparing for the role.

To get into character, Haas researched interviews and lectures about the Satmar community and their rituals.

Rahav plays Estys husband, Yanky Shapiro. He has previously starred in productions of Wild Horses and The Damned.

However, in Making Unorthodox, Feldman revealed they had never seen Rahav act in any other project before casting him.

We just saw him in the addition. We were all blown away, she said.

Since starring in the series, the actor (and his character) have won over many Twitter users

The British actress plays Estys mum, Leah Mandelbaum, and has previously acted in shows such as Life On Mars and Misfits.

The actor, writer and translator was brought onto the project by the producers as he was raised in a Hasidic family in Borough Park, Brooklyn and helped assist with creating a believable script, coach the actors in Yiddish and assisted perfecting cultural details.

I got the feeling they were taking authenticity seriously, he told NNY 360.

In the show, he plays the rabbi who officiates Estys wedding but he also translated the scripts into the specific dialect of Hungarian Yiddish spoken in the Satmar community. He was also present on almost every day of filming.

He is the person who saw all different sides of me. We spent so much time together, Haas said of working with Rosen.

It was really important for me to understand what each word means, she added, revealing he would record her lines for her at different speeds, noting, not just to understand the whole sentence, but to understand every word so I could play with it and change it. ... I wanted to have freedom in my acting.

Director Maria Schrader noted in Making Unorthodox: I would have been lost without his advice.

The actor plays Yankys cousin Moishe and almost missed out on playing the role.

A crazy thing happened, our German casting director said we have a German actor who speaks Yiddish. It was the end of the day. Alexa and I were sitting in the office.

So this guy comes in, and were like: This is what the show is about. And he was like This is my story.

Wilbusch is a Berlin-based actor who grew up with 13 siblings in a Yiddish-speaking family in Mea Shearim, a fundamentalist ultra-Orthodox enclave in Jerusalem. He later moved away from the community.

While the series sees the characters in New York and Berlin, nearly all the filming (apart from location shots) took place in Germany on made-to-measure soundstages in the European capital.

For example, the wedding ceremony was shot over two days at a Palestinian wedding hall in Berlin and the small family apartments were filmed on sets in the city.

Challenges of filming in Berlin included finding enough extras with big enough beards who were willing to have their hair and make-up done for the wedding scenes.

Costume designer Justine Seymour sourced clothes from Berlin and Williamsburg. The mens furry hats, known as schtrimels cost up to 1,000 euros each, involving the fur of around six minks, so a Hamburg theatre company volunteered to make them out of fake fur instead.

The team took two research trips to New York to meet people living in the community, understand the atmosphere of the time and take pictures of everything to help them recreate the world they were making.

With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 92, its safe to say there would be an appetite for a second season of the series.

However, from the looks of it theres no sign of a follow-up to the first season.

Were not doing a sequel to this because we feel that we really told this story, says producer Anna Winger.

It was always designed as a mini-series. I suspect that I will work with these actors again, and with many of my collaborators from this project. We have a lot of new things in development. So its not the end of the road for this constellation, but I dont think well tell this story again. Weve told it.

That said, Feldmans follow-up memoir to Unorthodox, Exodus, explores her life after leaving the Hasidic community and traveling the US with her son.

Netflix hasnt announced any plans to adapt Exodus into a show but, never say never.

In the meantime, watch Netflixs One of Us and Shtisel which explore lives in ultra-orthodox families.

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Unorthodox: The True Story Behind The Hit Netflix Show, Plot And Cast - elle.com

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