The story of an African American gang member in Seattle reinventing himself as a Hasidic Jewish rapper in Jerusalem might not sound like your typical comedy series.
But then, Nissim Black – the real-life inspiration for a series being developed by HBO Max called “Motherland Bounce” – is anything but your typical character. (CNN and HBO Max are both part of Warner Bros. Discovery),
Black, 35, grew up in a family of hip-hop artists and was raised Muslim (though non practicing). His parents dealt and used drugs, he recalled in a recent interview with CNN, and at an early age he joined a local gang. At 13, he started rapping professionally.
Against this backdrop, Black said he started “soul searching,” which led him at 14 to convert to Christianity. But it was an altercation with another hip-hop artist when he was 21 that dramatically changed his course in life.
In this “kill or be-killed situation,” Black said, he turned to prayer.
“Eventually I had the opportunity to squash the altercation with the other guy,” Black explained. “It became a very spiritual experience.”
In 2011, Black converted to Orthodox Judaism. He now lives in Jerusalem with his wife and seven children and has revived his rapping career – though these days his lyrics explore his African American identity and Jewish culture.
Black says he was approached by various producers wanting to turn his remarkable journey into a documentary or even a feature-length film. But a comedy series, Black said, felt like the best way to share his story with a wider audience.
“I thought that laughter was the best way to the heart,” he said.
The funny part, he added, is “the dynamic of being Black in a world where not everybody looks like you – a fish out of water.”
The series, which is still in early stages of development, is named after one of Black’s songs.
The tune features lines like “from Seattle, the rainy city, where my mom lives. In Jerusalem the golden city that was conquered” that reflect his upbringing and later move halfway across the globe.
Black’s story comes as Ye and other public figures have been embroiled in recent antisemitism controversies.
Black believes the best type of engagement with celebrities spouting antisemitic rhetoric is not to engage with it at all. He likened it to “arguing with the five-year-old.”
“You know, who’s going to go back and forth with a five-year-old?” he added.
Beyond these celebrity headlines is a bigger picture of increasing antisemitism in the United States. Since 2019, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has found that each year following has seen all-time highs in antisemitic incidents.
In 2021 alone, there was a 34% increase in antisemitic incidents from the previous year – averaging out to around seven a day, according to a report by the ADL.
Black said that one of the best methods to combat rising antisemitism, is through movies and television shows that center around positive depictions of Jewish people.
“I think that everybody’s looking for a great story and negativity is what people are drawn to. That’s easy to do. What’s more challenging, and which will be more much, much more beautiful, is to show the positive things,” he said.
“We need to change the content and show the beauty of every culture. Once we get there, then we will be able to paint a different picture.”