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TOtimes Movies: Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro” & the prosthetic nose controversy


Bradley Cooper has recently found himself embroiled in mounting criticism due to his decision to don a prosthetic nose in his portrayal of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein in the upcoming movie “Maestro.” Cooper wears multiple hats as the film’s director, co-writer, and lead actor. The narrative of “Maestro” intricately explores the connection between Bernstein and his wife, Felicia Montealegre, played by Carey Mulligan. While the film’s trailer has been embraced on Netflix, it has also spurred allegations of anti-Semitism, fuelled by Cooper’s use of a prosthetic nose to accentuate his character’s appearance.

Hashtag “Jewface”

In an unexpected twist, the hashtag “#Jewface” surged in popularity on X, the former Twitter platform within a mere 24 hours. This hashtag encapsulates the fervent discourse surrounding Cooper’s appropriateness as a non-Jewish actor to portray Bernstein with a prosthetic nose. Critics contend that this creative choice inadvertently echoes historical instances of insensitivity. The hashtag and the discussions it reflects underscore the intricate dynamics of representation, cultural sensitivity, and the potential for misinterpretation.

Bradley Cooper stars in Maestro as composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. Printscreen from official trailer for Maestro

The portrayal of Bernstein’s character thrusts these issues into the forefront, underscoring the intricate interplay between artistic expression and social commentary. The convergence of Cooper’s creative vision, the approval of the Bernstein family, and societal sensitivities intertwines in a narrative that challenges established notions of authenticity and cultural interpretation.

Who was Leonard Bernstein?

Amid these debates, one cannot overlook the legacy of Leonard Bernstein himself. Born on August 25, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Bernstein’s impact on music and the performing arts remains unparalleled. A master of musical versatility, his talents spanned genres from classical to Broadway, enabling him to forge connections that resonated with diverse audiences. His charismatic conducting elevated orchestral performances to new heights, punctuated by fervor, expressiveness, and emotional depth that revitalized classical compositions.

West Side Story

Bernstein’s compositional prowess is evident through orchestral works, choral pieces, chamber music, and the iconic realm of Broadway musicals. His unique fusion of classical foundations with contemporary influences lent his creations an enduring allure. The transformative power of his compositions finds a definitive embodiment in “West Side Story,” an opus that redefined Broadway with its seamless fusion of classical and popular musical elements.

Notably, Bernstein’s influence extended beyond music, embracing societal issues of civil rights, peace, and cultural understanding. His compositions acquired an added layer of resonance through their engagement with these concerns, fostering a harmonious dialogue between art and societal discourse.

As a beacon of humanitarianism, Bernstein’s legacy persisted through benefit concerts and charitable endeavors that reflected his unwavering commitment to positive change.

In retrospect, Leonard Bernstein’s eminence derived from his ability to traverse realms of classical music, Broadway, education, and sociopolitical advocacy. A visionary of profound influence, his legacy lives on through his melodies, recordings, and the boundless inspiration he ignited within generations of musicians, conductors, and enthusiasts.

Missed Opportunity For Better Casting

Media and pop culture expert Lauren Rosewarne from the University of Melbourne breaks down the layers to the issues.

The first relates to casting, she says. Bernstein was of Jewish background, born to Ukrainian parents who migrated to the United States. While the film is premised on the romantic relationship Bernstein had with his lifelong wife Felicia, critics took offense to Cooper for not having any religious or ethnic relationship to Judaism.

“This was the perfect opportunity to have a Jewish actor in the role that it makes no sense to use a gentile actor,” says Dr. Rosewarne. She adds that Cooper’s “distinctively troublesome” use of prosthetics compounds the issue at hand. “They could have cast an actor who actually looked more like the character being portrayed,” she says. “Instead, they’ve used prosthetics to make Cooper look more stereotypically Jewish with an oversized nose synonymous with the Jewish caricature.

Kveller & Hey Alma

The Hollywood Reporter’s chief TV critic Daniel Fienberg called the prosthetic problematic. when photos from the set emerged in May, and subsequently described the film as “ethnic cosplay”.

I had actually seen some stills of Bradley Cooper in this role a few months ago. So I remember when that was first released, I saw the prosthetic nose and then the trailer kind of reignited this topic of conversation,” said Molly Tolsky, the editor of Jewish pop culture sites Hey Alma and Kveller.“And I have to say, my initial reaction is like, Was the nose necessary? She remarked, “It didn’t feel good,” Tolsky remarked. “It’s really hard to separate it from those very well-known antisemitic caricatures of Jews that have been used for hundreds of years throughout history to persecute Jewish people.”

A Jewish Stereotype

Joel Swanson, a PhD student specializing in Jewish History at the University of Chicago, has emerged as a prominent voice in the critique of Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Leonard Bernstein. Swanson’s remarks have resonated widely, shedding light on the intricacies of representation in the entertainment industry.

Swanson’s perspective was succinctly captured in his observation that the issue at hand goes beyond mere physical resemblance. His assertion, “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,” which encapsulates the concern shared by many who find the use of a prosthetic nose problematic.”

Wildly Antisemitic

The nonprofit organization Stop Antisemitism has voiced strong criticism against the platform formerly known as Twitter, accusing it of using a “disgusting exaggerated ‘ Jew nose'” and rejecting the opportunity to cast Jake Gyllenhaal, an actual Jewish actor who has long aspired to portray Bernstein. The organization shared a side-by-side comparison of Bernstein’s natural nose and Cooper’s prosthetic, emphasizing the exaggerated size. One Twitter user argued that the use of the prosthetic nose goes beyond making a non-Jewish actor resemble Leonard Bernstein and instead perpetuates a Jewish stereotype. Another post on, garnering nearly 40,000 likes, labeled the prosthetic as “wildly antisemitic.”

Black Face or Yellow Face

Jewish actress and activist Tracy-Ann Obermann expressed her views on Instagram, equating the use of prosthetics to portray a Jewish character with the controversial practices of Black-Face or Yellow-Face. She pointed out that Cooper had portrayed Joseph Merrick, a deformed English man, in “The Elephant Man” on Broadway without prosthetics, questioning the necessity for the prosthetic nose in his portrayal of a Jewish man.

Critics on Social Media

Various voices on social media have added to the discourse. One commenter pondered the decision to give Bradley Cooper an overly large prosthetic nose to play a Jewish character and questioned the normalcy of such a portrayal. Another individual compared Cooper’s portrayal to the real Leonard Bernstein’s appearance, criticizing the prosthetic nose as unnecessarily exaggerated.

Critics have labeled the film as an example of “Jewface,” a term used to describe stereotypical or inauthentic portrayals of Jewish individuals. Questions were raised about Cooper’s choice to portray a famous Jewish figure despite not being publicly identified as Jewish himself.

The uncanny resemblance between Cooper’s prosthetic nose and Bernstein’s real appearance has prompted debates about the appropriateness of such a choice. Some critics find it gratuitous, emphasizing that the real Leonard Bernstein did not possess the exaggerated nose depicted in “Maestro.” Strong opinions were expressed, with some even likening Cooper’s portrayal to Nazi propaganda, indicating the striking similarities between the prosthetic and offensive historical imagery.

As the discussions unfold, individuals are questioning the rationale behind Cooper’s decision to use a prosthetic nose, especially considering his own naturally elongated nose. Social media has become a platform for these debates, and various perspectives are shaping the ongoing dialogue around the portrayal and representation of Jewish characters in the entertainment industry.

Sarah Silverman

On her recent podcast comedian Sarah Silverman decried the casting of non-Jewish actors to play Jewish characters in TV and movies, warning that the practice can veer into something she termed “Jewface.” The comments immediately drew heat from some listeners due to her use of the controversial term, which references blackface minstrel performance.

Supporting Cooper

Presenting an alternative perspective, a significant number of individuals and organizations staunchly stand by Bradley Cooper’s decision, viewing it as a well-thought-out artistic selection. Numerous Twitter users have voiced their thoughts on the matter, reflecting a diverse array of viewpoints:

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has stepped forward to support Bradley Cooper’s choice to wear a prosthetic nose in his upcoming biopic about the renowned composer Leonard Bernstein. The ADL, an international Jewish organization combating antisemitism and bigotry, issued a statement defending Cooper’s use of prosthetics and asserting that it does not inherently promote antisemitism. They clarified that the film’s focus on the legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein sets it apart from the malicious portrayals found in antisemitic films and propaganda.

Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the Israel-based International Legal Forum, also lent his support to Cooper via Twitter. Ostrovsky expressed his confusion regarding the controversy and highlighted that Cooper’s lack of Jewish heritage is irrelevant to his acting abilities. David Draiman, the lead vocalist of the heavy metal band Disturbed and a Jewish individual, shared similar sentiments on Twitter, referring to Cooper as an actor and dismissing the “Jewface” allegations as nonsensical.

While Jewish actor Michael Rapaport posted his podcast on the X platform to say the controversy is “much ado about woke nonsense.” “If we go down this path there will be no actors,” said Rapaport.

The Twitter users’ statements offer a range of perspectives, including the concept of acting itself, the evolving nature of diversity in casting, the realm of artistic decision-making, and even personal endorsements of Bradley Cooper’s portrayal in the forthcoming film “Maestro.” Amidst these varying viewpoints, it is evident that the discourse surrounding the controversy is multifaceted, encompassing a wide spectrum of opinions.


In recent years, the issue of casting actors in certain roles has ignited heated debates across the realms of movies, television, and theater. There is a growing consensus that actors should avoid portraying characters from marginalized groups to which they do not belong, stirring conversations about authenticity and representation.

Notably, Tom Hanks shared his perspective on this matter with The New York Times Magazine last year. He acknowledged that in today’s context, he would rightfully not be cast as a gay man with AIDS, a role he portrayed in the 1993 drama “Philadelphia.” Similarly, at the 2016 Emmy Awards, actor Jeffrey Tambor expressed his hope to be the last cisgender man to take on a transgender character, referring to his role in the series “Transparent.”

These complexities are exemplified in instances like Helen Mirren’s portrayal of the Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in an upcoming biopic. Notably, Liev Schreiber, who is Jewish, plays Henry Kissinger in the same film, “Golda.” In another example, the recent biopic “Oppenheimer” featured a non Jewish actor, Cillian Murphy, in the role of the Jewish title character.

These debates underscore the multifaceted nature of representation in the entertainment industry, prompting reflection on who has the right to tell certain stories and how this intersects with notions of authenticity and inclusion.

The Bernstein Family

A spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League, however, dismissed such criticism in a statement to 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.”

Bernstein’s Family Defends Cooper

The three children of late conductor/composer/pianist Leonard Bernstein have defended Bradley Cooper‘s artistic choices amid criticism that the actor/director’s portrayal of their father in the upcoming biopic Maestro leans into an antisemitic stereotype.“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 statement. “While Cooper is not Jewish we were touched to the core to witness the depth of his commitment, his loving embrace of our father’s music, and the sheer open hearted joy he brought to his exploration. It breaks our hearts to see any misrepresentations or misunderstandings of his efforts.” They added that, “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 strikes 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.”

Netflix Tight-Lipped

As the premiere draws near, December 20, the controversy surrounding Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Leonard Bernstein and his use of a prosthetic nose has ignited conversations across various platforms.

Despite the growing discourse, Bradley Cooper has remained tight lipped on the matter, refraining from making a public statement addressing the controversy. In a climate where conversations about representation and authenticity are gaining momentum, the absence of Cooper’s response has fueled speculation and further discussion.

Notably, a spokesperson from Netflix, the platform set to distribute the film, has not yet responded to requests for comment on the unfolding situation. As the controversy continues to unfold, many are keen to hear from the streaming giant and its stance on the matter.

Artisitic pursuit of authenticity

In the world of entertainment, the question of casting has always sparked intriguing discussions. From Shakespearean times to modern cinema, roles have been inhabited by actors who may not physically resemble the characters they portray. This debate resurfaces with fervor when considering the casting of non-Jewish actors as Jewish characters. However, the essence of the matter goes beyond appearances and noses.

The crux of the matter lies in the artistic pursuit of authenticity and the search for the most fitting actor for a role. Whether the actors share a background with their character or not, the ultimate criteria should be their ability to deliver a compelling performance. Arguments asserting that actors should solely resemble their characters can be challenged by examining the broader landscape of casting choices.

Consider the portrayal of aliens, creatures, or characters vastly different from the actors themselves. In such cases, the focus shifts from physical resemblance to the actor’s capacity to embody the essence of the character. The same rationale can be extended to roles requiring specific attributes, such as age. It’s not uncommon for older actors to play teenagers, or for younger actors to be aged significantly to portray older versions of a character. Ageism is seldom questioned, unlike the sensitive issues of Jewface and blackface.

While physical distinctions between races are discernible, acting is a craft that transcends these boundaries. The magic of cinema lies in its ability to transform actors into an array of characters, from historical figures like King Henry to fantastical creatures. Who could forget the incredible performance of Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or Dustin Hoffman’s masterful portrayal in “Tootsie“?

Jesus was white?

However, the authenticity debate extends beyond acting to the depiction of historical and religious figures. The representation of Jesus, for instance, has often featured a white portrayal, despite the historical reality of his Middle Eastern origins. Even Hollywood’s depiction of biblical characters, like Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses in “The Ten Commandments,” has been critiqued for its mismatch with historical accuracy.

Final thoughts

In the grand scope of the entertainment world, the focus should shift from minute physical details to the heart of the performance. The actor’s skill, dedication, and ability to capture the essence of a character should take precedence over the debate about noses or other superficial attributes. Just as an actor can transform into an array of roles, the audience’s appreciation should expand to embrace the diverse talents that enrich the cinematic experience.

by Myles Shane

Other articles from totimes.ca – otttimes.ca – mtltimes.ca

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