Why Melissa Barrera’s ‘Removal’ From ‘Scream VII’ Over Pro-Palestine Comments Is So Worrying
Melissa Barrera has been removed from Scream VII due to comments she made in support of Palestine amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. Her firing was confirmed in a statement from production company Spyglass Media, which says it has “zero tolerance for antisemitism.” Following Barrera’s removal, Scream co-star Jenna Ortega has reportedly asked to be released from her contract.
News of Barrera’s firing broke late in the day on November 21, just as outlets also began reporting that Susan Sarandon was dropped from talent agency UTA over antisemitic comments she made during a pro-Palestine rally. The two events were unfortunately linked in the media despite their marked differences: Sarandon drew an offensive and inaccurate equivalency between Jewish people and Muslims in the U.S., while Barrera expressed support for Palestine and described Israel’s military actions in Gaza as “genocide.”
Did Melissa Barrera make antisemitic comments?
Numerous reports, including one from The Hollywood Reporter, say Barrera was removed from Scream VII—what would have been her third outing as the protagonist in the franchise—due to potentially inflammatory comments the actor made on Instagram regarding Palestine. In the weeks since the horrific October 7 attack, in which Hamas killed 1,300 Israelis and took 240 hostages in the worst attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust, Israel has retaliated with a series of military actions, killing over 13,000 Palestinians according to the latest reports collected by the UN.
Screenshots of Barrera’s comments were not included in media reports, which presented her quotes out of context, but they are circulating on X:
Barrera’s comments, posted to Instagram Stories, read: “I have been actively looking for videos and information about the Palestinian side for the last 2 weeks or so, following accounts, etc. Why? Because western media only shows the other side. Why they do that, I will let you deduce for yourself. Usually the algorithm on social media gets the gist. Well … My discover page on IG will ONLY show me videos showing and talking about the Israeli side. Censorship is very real. Palestinians know this, they know the world has been trying to make them invisible for decades. Keep sharing.”
In another post, Barrera wrote, “I too come from a colonized country. Palestine WILL be free,” accompanied by emojis of the Mexico and Palestine flags. She added, “they tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.” The last line is often attributed as a Mexican proverb or dicho due to its use among Mexican activists in recent years, though it originated with the Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos, who was ostracized for being gay in the 1970s.
Before Spyglass released a statement, outlets began reporting that Barrera was removed from Scream VII due to antisemitic comments. In a longer feature on “Hollywood’s divide over Israel,” Variety reported that “Spyglass quietly dropped Melissa Barrera as the star of the next Scream film, sources say, due to her social media posts that referred to Israel as a ‘colonized’ land and floated an antisemitic trope that Jews control the media.” A spokesperson for Spyglass released a statement in response to Barrera’s removal, which reads, “Spyglass’ stance is unequivocally clear: We have zero tolerance for antisemitism or the incitement of hate in any form, including false references to genocide, ethnic cleansing, Holocaust distortion or anything that flagrantly crosses the line into hate speech.
A user on X compiled extensive screenshots of the actor’s posts regarding Palestine and Israel, including one in which Barrera shared a screenshot of a Jewish Currents article written by genocide scholar Raz Vega, in which the author references “the distortion of the Holocaust to boost the Israeli arms industry.” Still, Spyglass’ statement is somewhat hyperbolic.
Barrera’s comment about western media could be taken as a reference to the antisemitic stereotype that Jews control the media, but her subsequent comments about Instagram’s algorithm and censorship on social media underscore her meaning. It’s true that social media algorithms push content to users based on search history and interactions. It’s also true that Instagram has made a practice of shadowbanning users (i.e., hiding their content from feeds) for a variety of poorly defined reasons, including but not limited to profanity, mentions of self-harm, posting sexually suggestive content, and using too many hashtags in a single post. Unsurprisingly, shadowbanning disproportionately affects women of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and sex workers. Like most social media platforms, Instagram and parent company Meta have not been fully transparent about these practices and have denied engaging in shadowbanning.
Barrera is one of many public figures to express support for Palestine. On November 2, n+1 magazine published an open letter signed by more than 1,800 Jewish writers and artists calling for a ceasefire. “We wish to disavow the widespread narrative that any criticism of Israel is inherently antisemitic,” the statement reads. “This insidious gagging of free speech is being used to justify Israel’s ongoing military bombardment of Gaza and to silence criticism from the international community.”
Jenna Ortega reportedly exits Scream VII
On November 22, the day after Barrera’s removal from Scream VII was initially reported, rumors began circulating online that co-star Jenna Ortega had asked to end her contract for the franchise—seemingly in solidarity with Barrera. According to Deadline, Ortega had already decided not to return for Scream VII due to her commitment to Wednesday season 2, which begins production in April 2024. The report claims that these conversations took place before the SAG-AFTRA strike.
That could very well be true, but Deadline also notes that the script for Scream VII isn’t complete; why would Ortega have a scheduling conflict with a film that hasn’t even set its production schedule? Deadline prefaces the report by insisting, “This has nothing to do with the fallout from Melissa Barrera’s firing,” which sounds like someone’s publicist doth protest too much.
Celebrities receive backlash for posting about Israel and Palestine
Barrera’s firing follows a series of controversial social media posts from celebrities regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict. Stranger Things star Noah Schnapp was criticized for posting a video to Instagram in which he smiles and laughs while filming people holding stickers that read “Zionism is sexy” and “Hamas is Isis.” While some called for a boycott of the Netflix series, Schnapp, who is Jewish and has expressed his support of Israel following the October 7 attack, has yet to address the post.
Comedian Amy Schumer received backlash for an Instagram post featuring a comic with protesters holding signs that conflated Palestinian civilians with Hamas. The post has since been deleted, but can still be viewed on X. In October, Schumer also posted footage of the late Martin Luther King Jr., in which the civil rights leader denounces antisemitism. Dr. Bernice King, MLK’s daughter and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, responded to Schumer in a thread posted to X:
Meanwhile, journalists, college applicants, and even Tom Cruise’s agent have faced repercussions for speaking out or resharing social media posts in support of Palestine. In a post to Instagram, author, comedian, and podcast host Jamie Loftus called for a ceasefire and echoed growing concerns about speaking out in the entertainment industry. Loftus also revealed that she had been dropped by a longtime manager and that a coworker asked if she “would express solidarity with Palestine less.”
As Loftus explains, support of Palestine and criticism of Israel’s actions is not equivalent to antisemitism. But as Melissa Barrera’s firing from Scream VII suggests, this false equivalency is not an uncommonly held belief.
(featured image: Mindy Small, WireImage)
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