Leonard Bernstein’s three children defended actor-director Bradley Cooper on Wednesday after he drew fresh criticism for wearing a large prosthetic nose in his portrayal of the mid-century American composer and conductor, who was Jewish, in the upcoming film “Maestro.” “
When the makeup was first revealed last yearsome questioned the decision of Cooper, who is not Jewish, to play Bernstein, who died in 1990. In the Netflix film, she stars opposite Carey Mulligan as Bernstein’s wife, Felicia Montealgre Bernstein.
The debut of a teaser trailer on Tuesday sparked further debate on social media both about the prosthesis, which critics said played into an anti-Semitic trope, and whether an actor who is Jewish should instead have been cast to play Bernstein, the composer and musical director of “West Side Story.” the New York Philharmonic.
David Badiel, a British comedian and author of the 2021 book Jews Don’t Count, cited Cooper as the latest case of an ethnic actor unacceptably portraying an actual Jewish figure. “I’ve talked about non-Jewish authenticity casting – and what that means – many times. wrote to X, formerly known as Twitter. “The only difference here is that it’s more—well—on the nose.”
In a series of posts on Xthe Bernsteins’ three children — Jamie, Alexander and Nina Bernstein — said Cooper had consulted with them “every step of his amazing journey.”
“It breaks our hearts to see any misrepresentations or misunderstandings of his efforts,” they said of Cooper. “It’s true that Leonard Bernstein had a nice, big nose. Bradley chose to use makeup to enhance his likeness and we’re totally fine with that. We’re also sure our father would be fine with it too.”
They added, “Any harsh complaints around this issue seem to us above all to be disingenuous attempts to bring a successful person down a notch.”
Through a spokesman, Cooper declined to comment. Netflix did not respond to a request for comment.
“Maestro” premieres next month at the Venice Film Festival and, in North America, at the New York Film Festival in October. A November US release will follow before a December debut on Netflix.
In recent years, the question of which actors are suitable to play certain roles has been a hot-button issue in film, television and theatre, with a growing consensus against portraying characters from marginalized groups whose characteristics they do not share.
Tom Hanks told The New York Times Magazine last year that in modern times he would not be cast as a gay man with AIDS, as he was in the 1993 drama “Philadelphia.” At the 2016 Emmy Awards, said actor Jeffrey Tabor he hoped to be the last cisgender man to play a transgender character, as he did in the series “Transparent.”
Some critics, such as Baddiel, argue that there is a double standard in the selection of Jewish characters, whose portrayal by Gentiles is widely tolerated.
Helen Mirren, who is not Jewish, is playing Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in a biopic coming out this month (even as Jewish Liev Schreiber plays Henry Kissinger in the movie “Golda”). In the recent biopic Oppenheimer, the Jewish title character was played by non-Jewish actor Cillian Murphy.
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