Controversy erupts online over Bradley Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein schnoz in ‘Maestro’ trailer
Yes, friends, “Jewface” has trended. Netflix’s new Maestro trailer reignited a debate over non-Jewish actor Bradley Cooper donning a prosthetic nose to portray legendary Jewish conductor Leonard Bernstein.
The film, set to premiere Sept. 2 in competition at the Venice Film Festival before wider release in November, focuses on Bernstein’s marriage to Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). Cooper directed the movie, which he also co-produced and co-wrote. But it’s his faux schnoz that’s attracted attention since the trailer’s release.
“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,” Jewish academic Joel Swanson tweeted. “Hollywood cast Bradley Cooper – a non Jew – to play Jewish legend Leonard Bernstein and stuck a disgusting exaggerated ‘Jew nose’ on him,” tweetedthe advocacy account Stop Antisemitism.
Others compared photos of Cooper out of character side by side with historic photos of Bernstein.
“Did the prosthetics team even try?” opined the @ghoulhag account in a post that garnered more than 17,000 likes. “I’m fine with non-Jews playing Jews and vice versa. I’m fine with fake noses for a reasonable context (like looking more like the celebrity you’re playing),” tweeted cartoonist Barry Deutsch. “I’m bewildered as to why Bradley Cooper chose to wear a fake nose that looks NOTHING like Leonard Bernstein’s nose.”
At issue is whether the prosthetic fuels antisemitic stereotypes of Jewish people with oversize or hooked noses. Way back in the 12th century, medieval artists depicted Jews that way. Nazi propaganda routinely featured cartoons of Jews with impossibly large hooked noses. The annual Aalst carnival in Belgium reliably draws ire for its floats depicting Jewish people with grotesquely oversized noses; it lost status as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage event in 2019 as a result. Last year, Jewish comedian and analyst Jon Stewart pointed out that the Gringotts goblins in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are full of age-old antisemitic stereotypes, including their hooked noses.
“The big nose has long served as a visible way to mark this otherwise invisible group of others … From the very beginning of that invented stereotype, the intention was to create a visible Jewish appearance,” Sharrona Pearl wrote in “The Myth of the Jewish Nose,” a Tablet essay. “A visibly bad Jewish appearance.”
Back to Bradley Cooper. As of press time he hadn’t commented on the controversy, but Leonard Bernstein’s children did.
“Bradley Cooper included the three of us along every step of his amazing journey as he made his film about our father,” Jamie, Alexander and Nina Bernstein said in a Aug. 16 statement.
“It breaks our hearts to see any misrepresentations or misunderstandings of his efforts. It happens to be true that Leonard Bernstein had a nice, big nose. Bradley chose to use makeup to amplify his resemblance, and we’re perfectly fine with that. We’re also certain that our dad would have been fine with it as well. Any strident complaints around this issue strike us above all as disingenuous attempts to bring a successful person down a notch — a practice we observed all too often perpetrated on our own father.”
The Anti Defamation League agreed, telling The Washington Post: “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 debate over Cooper’s prosthetic adds to similar recent criticism of Helen Mirren for her portrayal of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in the forthcoming Golda (also with a bigger nose) and other decisions to cast non-Jewish actors in visibly Jewish roles, or “Jewface.” Comedian Sarah Silverman lamented Kathryn Hahn’s casting as Joan Rivers as a example in a 2021 podcast episode: “It’s defined as when a non-Jew portrays a Jew with the Jewishness front and center, often with makeup or changing of features, big fake nose, all the New York-y or Yiddish-y inflection.” Other notable examples circulating include Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Rachel Brosnahan in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
All of which negates another common antisemitic stereotype, as the Jewish Memes Only Instagram account recently reminded its followers.
“’jews run hollywood’ and yet I have to see leonard bernstein played by bradley cooper in an obscene gigantic nose prosthetic. cool.”