Bradley Cooper's portrayal of legendary composer Leonard Bernstein in an upcoming Netflix biopic, titled "Maestro," has stirred controversy as he wore a prosthetic nose for the role. While Cooper is not of Jewish descent, his use of the fake nose has sparked accusations of antisemitism.
The backlash escalated after a teaser trailer for the film was released, with some online commenters drawing comparisons between Cooper's makeup and historic antisemitic stereotypes that depict Jews with exaggerated, large noses, akin to the "Happy Merchant" meme.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Bernstein's family have come forward in defense of Cooper against these allegations. The ADL emphasized that the film is not perpetuating harmful stereotypes but rather presenting a biographical depiction of the renowned composer.
The organization noted that historical films have often portrayed Jews using derogatory caricatures, whereas "Maestro" seeks to genuinely explore Bernstein's life and legacy.
Casting Debate: Perpetuating 'Jewface'?
Nevertheless, critics, including the nonprofit organization StopAntisemitism, argue that casting a non-Jewish actor in the role perpetuates Hollywood's issue of "Jewface," wherein non-Jewish actors play Jewish characters.
This debate over authenticity in casting extends beyond this particular film, with previous instances of non-Latino actors playing Latino roles and controversies surrounding actors portraying characters of different races.
The selection of Cooper over other potential candidates, including Jake Gyllenhaal, has fueled discussions on the matter. Gyllenhaal, who has Jewish heritage through his mother, expressed his support for Cooper's project despite his own aspiration to portray Bernstein.
He acknowledged the complexities of such casting decisions. The controversy underscores the broader ongoing conversation about representation in Hollywood and the industry's responsibility to accurately depict diverse characters and their experiences.
Some argue that while the film industry has made strides in addressing issues like blackface, there remains a need for more nuanced discussions regarding authenticity in portraying characters of various backgrounds. Cooper's "Maestro" has found allies in Bernstein's family members, who were consulted during the film's production.
They voiced their support for Cooper's decision to enhance his resemblance through makeup, noting that their father had a distinctive nose and that he would likely have been accepting of the artistic choice. With Sarah Silverman also joining the cast, playing Bernstein's sister, the film is set to be released in theaters on November 22 and on Netflix on December 20.
As debates surrounding casting choices continue, "Maestro" stands as a focal point for discussions on respectful and accurate representation in the cinematic landscape.
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