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About The Bradley Cooper “Jewface” Controversy

The Times of Israel reports on the latest “Jewface” controversy:

Actor Bradley Cooper has come under allegations of “Jewface” for using a prosthetic nose to play Jewish conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein in the upcoming biopic film “Maestro,” after the trailer for the movie was released Tuesday.

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.

“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.

“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.

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.”

One social media user said Cooper “looks like Nazi propaganda.”

“It seems completely unnecessary to have gone in that direction given the uncanny resemblance,” another user stated. “The real Leonard Bernstein did not have the funny nose that Bradley Cooper is wearing in Maestro.”

“Given the striking resemblance, it seems entirely gratuitous to have taken this path. The real Leonard Bernstein did not possess the comical nose that Bradley Cooper sports in ‘Maestro,’” another said.”

There are two issues here. The first is whether a non-Jewish actor should be able to play a Jewish character over a Jewish actor. We saw this same controversy arise when Helen Mirren was chosen to play Golda Meir. As far as I am concerned, it is a ridiculous argument. Isn’t the point of acting to convince the audience you are someone else? Surely this means you needn’t share the traits of the character you are depicting!

The second argument is more reasonable. Did Bradley Cooper need to wear a prosthetic nose to portray Leonard Bernstein? Or is it merely playing in to an antisemitic stereotype?

Here’s a better side-by-side comparison:

I do think there is something to the criticisms – Cooper certainly did not need to wear the nose. But I do not feel the choice to do so was fueled by any antisemitism on Cooper’s part, given he has no history of antisemitism and has worked with plenty of Jews. Tellingly, Bernstein’s own children are fine with it:

Netflix also did not respond to TODAY.com’s request for comment on the backlash. However, Bernstein’s children said in a statement to TODAY.com they’re “perfectly fine” with his appearance.

“Bradley Cooper included the three of us along every step of his amazing journey as he made his film about our father. 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. 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 notice, a practice we observed all too often perpetrated on our own father.

“At all times during the making of this film, we could feel the profound respect and yes, the love that Bradley brought to his portrait of Leonard Bernstein and his wife, our mother Felicia. We feel so fortunate to have had this experience with Bradley, and we can’t wait for the world to see his creation.”

With real antisemitism raging around the world, I just feel this is not the hill for us to die on. I would rather focus on the actual Jew haters of the world, and not a Hollywood actor and filmmaker who has no history of antisemitism, and at worst has perhaps made a misguided decision to use prosthetics.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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