JTA – When Netflix released the first stills from the set of ‘Maestro’, Bradley Cooper’s upcoming biopic film about Leonard Bernstein, there was one thing most fans agreed on.
Cooper looked completely unrecognizable, especially in one picture as the older version of the legendary Jewish conductor.
But as legions of angry social media users pointed out Monday, part of Cooper’s transformation involved a prosthetic nose, which many found anti-Semitic — especially since Cooper isn’t Jewish.
“There is no reason to believe that choosing to wear a fake nose is a deliberate anti-Semitic act,” James Hirsh, a co-host of the Menschwarmers podcast on Jewish athletes, wrote in the Canadian Jewish News. “Cooper is probably interested in exploring the life of a great composer he admires. Some Jews are involved in the production. And the prosthesis probably helps with the resemblance.
“But this is Cooper’s third time portraying a historical figure on screen,” added Hirsh. “No prosthetics were used to play American Sniper’s Chris Kyle or Licorice Pizza’s Jon Peters. He didn’t use them to play Elephant Man on Broadway.”
Hirsh wasn’t the only one calling out the prosthesis.
From the MAESTRO set. pic.twitter.com/y3qsYILk6P
– NetflixFilm (@NetflixFilm) May 30, 2022
Though actors frequently adjust their bodies while playing historical figures, talk has circulated for years about how many non-Jews play Jewish characters in Hollywood — and to what extent that should be allowed.
But the “Jewface” debate received a boost last year, especially after gentile actress Kathryn Hahn was cast as outspokenly Jewish comedy pioneer Joan Rivers (in a series that eventually got canceled). Comedian Sarah Silverman made headlines by berating the casting and saying on an episode of her podcast, “Right now, representation is friggin’ important.”
Don’t give non-Jewish actors the wrong nose to play Jews.
This stereotype borrows from Nazi racial science about what Jews look like, centuries of hooked-nose imagery, and propaganda made to dehumanize Jewish people!
— Henne Mazzig (@HenMazzig) May 31, 2022
jews run hollywood and still i have to see leonard bernstein being played by bradley cooper in an obscene giant prosthetic nose. Cold.
— shoshana gottlieb || שושנה (@TheTonightSho) May 31, 2022
The Amber biopic discourse has been particularly charged since 2018, when Cooper and Steven Spielberg — who was originally slated to direct Maestro before it became Cooper’s directing successor to his hit remake of 1999’s A Star Is Born In 2016, the actor-director duo Jake Gyllenhaal and Cary Fukunaga clashed to secure the music rights to Bernstein’s estate.
Speaking about the Bernstein Sweepstakes in an interview last year, Gyllenhaal — who, like Spielberg, is Jewish — mentioned Bernstein’s Jewish affiliation when admitting his defeat.
“To stick your neck out and hope to tell the stories you love and have held in your heart for a very long time is something to be proud of. And that story, that idea of playing one of America’s preeminent Jewish artists and his struggle with his identity, has been close to my heart for 20 years, but sometimes those things don’t work out,” he told Deadline.
Jewish actor Jake Gyllenhaal losing Leonard Bernstein biopic to Bradley Cooper will never drive me crazy pic.twitter.com/H8DWWm45pv
— Bee ✡︎ (@filmlamet) May 31, 2022
Some fans revived the possibility of Gyllenhaal playing Amber in their digs at pictures of Cooper on set.
Production on Maestro, which stars Carey Mulligan as Bernstein’s wife, Felicia Montealegre, began this month. The film is expected to be released in 2023.