Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein in the Netflix film Maestro has sparked controversy and accusations of “Jewface” from the Jewish advocacy group StopAntisemitism.org. The group criticized Hollywood for casting Cooper, a non-Jewish actor, and equipping him with a fake nose that they deemed to be an exaggerated portrayal of Jewish features.
StopAntisemitism.org further questioned why Cooper was chosen for the role when Jewish actor Jake Gyllenhaal was allegedly turned down, despite reportedly having dreamed of playing Bernstein for years. Pamela Geller, a right-wing commentator, supported the criticism, highlighting the double standard of racially homogeneous casting in Hollywood for other ethnicities.
In response to the backlash, Bernstein’s family released a statement on Twitter defending Cooper and expressing their satisfaction with his portrayal. They commended the actor-director for involving them in the production process and noted that Bernstein himself had a prominent nose. The family stated that they were perfectly fine with Cooper using makeup to enhance his resemblance to Bernstein, and believed their father would have approved as well.
The Bernsteins believed that the complaints against Cooper’s portrayal were insincere attempts to bring a successful person down, a practice they claimed had been frequently directed at their father. However, StopAntisemitism.org and its supporters on Twitter did not respond directly to the family’s statement, with some even accusing them of being “self-hating” Jews and comparing Cooper’s makeup to blackface.
Critics of StopAntisemitism.org argued that non-Jews playing Jewish characters, and vice versa, was common in the entertainment industry. They believed that manufacturing controversies and hiding behind the banner of “antisemitism” would ultimately harm the Jewish cause.
Despite the controversy surrounding Cooper’s portrayal, the trailer for Maestro, which focuses on Bernstein’s life as a composer and conductor and his relationship with his wife, was released on Tuesday. The term “Jewface” itself was coined in 2021 by Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman, who has also faced criticism for her past performances in blackface.
In conclusion, Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Leonard Bernstein in Maestro has ignited a heated debate about the ethics of casting choices and the portrayal of Jewish characters in Hollywood. While some have accused Cooper of engaging in “Jewface,” Bernstein’s family has come to his defense, emphasizing their involvement in the film and asserting that their father would have approved of Cooper’s portrayal. The controversy highlights ongoing discussions surrounding diversity and representation in the entertainment industry and the potential for these debates to turn into opportunities for false outrage.