Actor Bradley Cooper is facing mounting backlash over his apparent use of a prosthetic nose in his depiction of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein in the upcoming movie “Maestro.” The biographical romance, which Cooper co-wrote, produced and directed, tells the story of Bernstein, who famously co-created “West Side Story,” with a focus on the composer’s 25-year marriage to Felicia Montealegre.
After Netflix dropped the trailer for the film on Tuesday, advocates and social media users were quick to notice the change in Cooper’s appearance, with some branding his apparent use of a prosthetic nose as antisemitic.
“Hollywood cast Bradley Cooper — a non Jew — to play Jewish legend Leonard Bernstein and stuck a disgusting exaggerated ‘Jew nose’ on him,” StopAntisemitism, an organization aimed at countering antisemitism, said in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
Social media users also weighed in, with one writing: “Bradley Cooper is putting himself in an insanely large prosthetic nose to play a Jewish man in Maestro and we’re all just supposed to act like that’s cool and normal?” “Just looked up a picture of the real Leonard Bernstein…. the big antisemitic prosthetic nose on Bradley Cooper was definitely not necessary…” another commenter wrote. “I saw Bradley cooper play the elephant man with no prosthetics on Broadway,” another social media user said. “But then he plays a Jew and decides he needs a huge nose?”
“He’s the director too so don’t blame anyone else,” they added. Several social media users said the film was a clear case of “Jewface,” a term used to characterize stereotypical or inauthentic portrayals of Jewish people, with some also questioning why Cooper, who is not publicly known to be Jewish, was playing a famous Jewish person in the first place.
“There was no need for Bradley Cooper to add an odd prosthetic nose on top of this to play Leonard Bernstein,” one social media user wrote. “His own nose is longer! And I still would have preferred they at least give Jewish actors a chance to audition before automatically casting someone more famous,” they said, adding the hashtag “#JewFace.”
Concerns around “Jewface” in Hollywood portrayals were highlighted in 2021 by comedian Sarah Silverman, who said the film industry had a “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,” she had said, speaking on “The Sarah Silverman Podcast.”
Silverman defined the term as being “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.” “In a time when the importance of representation is seen as so essential and so front and center, why does ours constantly get breached, even today, in the thick of it?” she questioned at the time.
The Media Diversity Institute describes on its website how portrayals of Jewish people as having “large, hooked” noses is an “image so deeply imbedded in modern culture, that most do not acknowledge that it is actually a deeply antisemitic stereotype.”
“It hasn’t always been this way. Before the 12th century, there is no evidence of Jews being depicted with large noses,” it states, asserting that the caricature of Jewish people “goes back to antisemitic and Nazi propaganda from the 1930s and since then has gone on to become a common trope and, whether intentionally or not—pushes antisemitic stereotypes to this day.”
Concerns around Cooper’s portrayal of Bernstein, who died in 1990, come at a time when antisemitic incidents in the U.S. have been at record highs, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In 2022, the ADL recorded 3,697 reports of antisemitic incidents throughout the U.S., which it said was the highest number on record since it began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.
Maestro, which will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September, is expected to have a limited theatrical release on Nov. 22 before hitting Netflix on Dec. 20, according to Netflix.