A nose for controversy: Bradley Cooper ‘Jewface’ prosthetic in Bernstein biopic

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A nose for controversy: Bradley Cooper ‘Jewface’ prosthetic in Bernstein biopic

Accusations of antisemitic stereotypes as Hollywood actor uses fake nose to portray Jewish conductor Leonard Bernstein in 'Maestro' film

Leonard Bernstein, left and Bradley Cooper, right.
Leonard Bernstein, left and Bradley Cooper, right.

Hollywood actor Bradley Cooper is facing widespread criticism for the use of a prosthetic nose in his portrayal of Jewish conductor Leonard Bernstein.

The backlash comes as Netflix released a teaser for ‘Maestro,’ with 48-year old Cooper playing the legendary figure opposite Carey Mulligan as actress and activist Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein.

Critics are accusing the actor of reinforcing antisemitic caricatures by adopting the fake nose.

Whilst controversy over non-Jewish actors playing the roles of Jewish figures is not new, the accusations in this case are that the nose prosthetic has been excessively exaggerated. Critics have posted side-by-side pictures of Bernstein alongside Cooper’s made-up face to illustrate their point.

Jewish actor and producer Jake Gyllenhaal had dreamt of playing the role of Bernstein for two decades but ultimately the composer’s estate decided to give exclusive rights to Cooper’s version, co-written with Oscar-winning “Spotlight” screenwriter Josh Singer and co-produced with Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.

Speaking to Deadline magazine in 2021, Gyellenhaal said “that idea of playing one of the most preeminent Jewish artists in America and his struggle with his identity was in my heart for 20 some odd years, but sometimes those things don’t work out.”

Jewish actress Tracy-Ann Oberman has issued a lengthy statement on Instagram in protest.

“All actors should be able to play any part with their skill. However we are living in times where there is huge sensitivity and debate over ethnic & minority representation.

She says that “If Bradley Cooper green lights your film to play the Jewish composer Bernstein and you want him over a Jewish A-Lister who can equally play that role – then let Bradley Cooper’s acting be so magnificent and truthful that the character of Bernstein shines through what he already looks like.

If he needs to wear a prosthetic nose then that is, to me and many others, the equivalent of Black-Face or Yellow-Face.

“Cillian could play Oppenheimer because he looks like Oppenheimer and could get the power of the man’s story and Jewishness through the power of his acting, ditto Tom Conti as Einstein didn’t have to ‘wear’ a nose.

If Bradley Cooper can’t do it through the power or acting alone then don’t cast him – get a Jewish Actor. Bradley Cooper managed to play the ELEPHANT MAN without a single prosthetic then he should be able to manage to play a Jewish man without one.

Daniel Sugarman, director of Public Affairs for the Board of Deputies, has joined the chorus of disapproval, tweeting that “the decision here to slap on a big nose to play a Jewish composer therefore seems…even more suspect.T

The film ‘Maestro’ is scheduled for release in September.

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