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Leonard Bernstein Netflix film criticized over ‘Jewface’

The composer’s family has supported Cooper’s prosthetic nose and said that the late Bernstein would have done the same.

American Jewish composer Leonard Bernstein seated at piano, making annotations to a musical score, 1955. Credit: Al Ravenna, World Telegram Staff Photographer via Wikimedia Commons.
American Jewish composer Leonard Bernstein seated at piano, making annotations to a musical score, 1955. Credit: Al Ravenna, World Telegram Staff Photographer via Wikimedia Commons.

In lush black and white, a man and woman sit back-to-back in a park, playing a guessing game together, dreaming that they can communicate telepathically if they just try hard enough. The scene cuts to a party, where they kiss passionately.

Then the trailer of the forthcoming Netflix film “Maestro” shifts to color, including the gray hair of both Jewish composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) and his wife, social activist Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan).

The high-profile, likely Oscar-contending dramatization of the life of one of America’s most influential Jewish musical figures also quickly provoked criticism on social media.

As one U.K. journalist put it, the film shows “actual Jewface” in Cooper’s prosthetic nose. (Others have said a Jew was “one too many” in the film “Oppenheimer,” in which a Catholic actor played the Jewish physicist.)

“Hollywood cast Bradley Cooper—a non-Jew—to play Jewish legend Leonard Bernstein and stuck a disgusting exaggerated ‘Jew nose’ on him,” wrote StopAntisemitism. “All while saying no to Jake Gyllenhaal, an actually Jewish man, who has dreamt of playing Bernstein for decades. Sickening.”

The late Bernstein’s children—Jamie, Alexander and Nina—have said they support Cooper and have no objections to the use of makeup for him to more closely resemble their father. 

“It happens to be true that Leonard Bernstein had a nice, big nose,” they stated. “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,” they added.

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