The Anti-Defamation League agrees with Leonard Bernstein’s family: Bradley Cooper’s prosthetic nose in the upcoming “Maestro” biopic is not an antisemitic portrayal of the celebrated Jewish conductor.
Cooper, who isn’t Jewish, was accused on social media of fueling antisemitic stereotypes by wearing an exaggerated nose that appears larger than the real Bernstein’s.
“Throughout history, Jews were often portrayed in antisemitic films and propaganda as evil caricatures with large, hooked noses. This film, which is a biopic on the legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein, is not that,” the group, which monitors and responds to antisemitism, wrote in a statement first published by TMZ on Monday.
The American Jewish Committee also sent the celebrity news site a statement defending Cooper, writing: “We do not believe that this depiction harms or denigrates the Jewish community.”
After the film’s trailer dropped last week, criticism erupted over Cooper’s apparent prosthesis. Some said Cooper’s appearance was redolent of antisemitic stereotypes about Jewish noses, while others went further and said it was a literal embodiment of “Jewface,” a critical phrase that has come to refer to portrayals of Jews by non-Jewish actors. The ADL’s statement did not weigh in on the broader question of Jewface.
“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,” British Jewish star Tracy Ann Oberman wrote in an online post last week.
“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,” she said, referring to the fact that Jewish actor Jake Gyllenhaal and director Cary Fukunaga failed to secure the music rights from Bernstein’s estate for their version.
Left: Bradley Cooper with his prosthetic nose, playing Leonard Bernstein.
Right: The actual Leonard Bernstein.
This isn't about making a non-Jewish actor look more like Leonard Bernstein; it's about making a non-Jewish actor look more like a Jewish stereotype. https://t.co/WrYWuweosW pic.twitter.com/WxspPtHktj
— Joel S. (@jh_swanson) August 15, 2023
Oberman said Cooper’s use of prosthetics was equivalent to blackface or yellowface. She noted that Cillian Murphy and Tom Conti, who aren’t Jewish, didn’t need prosthetics to successfully portray J. Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein in Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.”
“If Bradley Cooper can’t do it through the power or acting alone then don’t cast him – get a Jewish Actor,” she wrote. “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.”
Sarah Silverman, a prominent voice on Jewish representation in Hollywood roles, plays Leonard’s sister Shirley Bernstein in the film.
Two years ago, Silverman angrily opposed a planned miniseries about Jewish comedian Joan Rivers that would have starred non-Jewish actor Kathryn Hahn.
“There’s this long tradition of non-Jews playing Jews, and not just playing people who happen to be Jewish, but people whose Jewishness is their whole being,” Silverman stated on her podcast. “One could argue, for instance, that a gentile playing Joan Rivers correctly would be doing what is actually called ‘Jewface.’”
“Maestro,” to be released on Netflix on December 20, will span multiple decades of Bernstein’s storied career and tumultuous personal life, and also stars Carey Mulligan, Jeremy Strong, and Maya Hawke; Steven Spielberg is a producer.