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Leonard Bernstein's family defends appearance in 'Maestro' nose flap

Bradley Cooper plays Leonard Bernstein in a new biopic.
Jason McDonald
/
Netflix
Bradley Cooper plays Leonard Bernstein in a new biopic.

The new biopic Maestro centers on the relationship between the famed conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia Montealegre. But some people are upset about the prosthetic nose worn by lead actor Bradley Cooper, who also co-wrote and directed the film.

Ever since the first images from the movie appeared online, some viewers have called it an anti-Semitic caricature of the late Jewish musician, an example of what's known in Hollywood as "Jewface."

"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," tweeted @jh_swanson.

Another social media user @TamarWrites tweeted, "Let's talk about how prevalent of a trope it still is that Jews have big noses, even though nose diversity runs the gamut among Jews as much as any other group. And here we are... enhancing a shnoz prosthetic for no apparent reason, reinforcing the stereotypes."

But Bernstein's adult children say they are "heartbroken" over the criticism. "It happens to be true that Leonard Bernstein had a nice, big nose," Jamie, Alexander and Nina Bernstein tweeted on their father's social media account.

"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 Bernsteins said Cooper included them along every step as he was made the film about their 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."

Maestro is set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival at the end of this month, it will be in select theaters Nov. 22 and on Netflix on Dec. 20.

The Maestro backlash reignited an ongoing debate about Jewish representation and appropriation.

For instance, Helen Mirren (who is not Jewish) has been slammed for her makeup and prosthetics and for being cast to portray former Israeli prime minister Gold Meir in the upcoming movie Golda. Among other non-Jewish actors who recently played Jewish characters: Rachel Brosnahan in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Rachel McAdams as an Orthodox woman in Disobedience.

Last year Steven Spielberg was also criticized when he cast non-Jewish actors Paul Dano and Michelle Williams to play his own parents in his semi-autobiographical film The Fabelmans.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: August 17, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
This article has been updated with language that more accurately conveys concerns about Bradley Cooper's use of a prosthetic nose.
As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.