Bradley Cooper is facing criticism for the large prosthetic nose he wears in his biopic on Jewish conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein.
The arrival of the teaser trailer of Maestro—which Cooper also co-wrote, produced, and directed—has renewed criticism over the prosthetics Cooper wears in the Netflix film. When he was spotted filming the project last summer, some called him out over the prosthetic, which some have justifiably suggested reinforces Jewish stereotypes. The teaser trailer has reignited the conversation surrounding what many have called an example of "Jewface."
Cooper, who is of Irish-Italian descent and raised in a Catholic household, has provoked reactions on social media for the choice. Users on the site formerly known as Twitter were quick to highlight the prosthetic, and some even questioned the need for it at all due to Cooper's real nose looking not too dissimilar to Bernstein's.
"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 Jewish stereotype," wrote one user.
In comments provided to Page Six, Jewish actress Tracy-Ann Oberman highlighted that Cooper didn't wear prosthetics when he played John Merrick for the 2014 stage production of The Elephant Man, for instance. “If Bradley Cooper is able to play the Elephant Man without any prosthetics, he should be able to play a Jewish man without any need for prosthetics — especially a ‘Jewish’ nose," she said. "If he needs to wear a prosthetic nose then that is, to me and many others, the equivalent of Black-Face or Yellow-Face.”
Oberman also contrasted Cooper's decision to don a prosthetic to Cillian Murphy and Tom Conti in Oppenheimer, who played J. Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein, respectively. "Cillian could play Oppenheimer because he looks like Oppenheimer and could get the power of the man’s story and Jewishness through the power of his acting," she added. "Ditto Tom Conti as Einstein didn’t have to ‘wear’ a nose.”
Others have pointed out that Jake Gyllenhaal, who is Jewish, was originally attached to play Bernstein in a different biopic project that never came to fruition. The late conductor's estate awarded exclusive music rights to Cooper's project in 2018, per The Hollywood Reporter, which meant that Gyllenhaal's movie wouldn't've been able to feature any of his music, including what he composed for West Side Story.
"Remember how bradley cooper basically stole the rights for this film from a jewish man who had been passionately trying to make it for years?" wrote one user on X. "and now he’s wearing prosthetic nose to play a jewish man and directing it himself."
In an interview in 2021, Gyllenhaal addressed Cooper's biopic getting exclusive rights and admitted he was disappointed.
"No one likes to admit this, but, we got beat at our own game," he told Deadline. "There’s always another project. Sticking your neck out, hoping to get to tell the stories you love and that have been in your heart for a very long time is something to be proud of. And that story, that idea of playing one of the most preeminent Jewish artists in America and his struggle with his identity was in my heart for 20 some odd years, but sometimes those things don’t work out." Despite his disappointment, he said he "wish[es] them the best."
Despite the backlash, the children of Leonard Bernstein released a statement supporting Cooper's portyal of their father.
Bradley Cooper included the three of us along every step of his amazing journey as he made his film about our 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. It breaks our hearts to see any misrepresentations or misunderstandings of his efforts. It happens to be true that Leonard Bernstein had a nice, big nose. 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.
Maestro also stars Carey Mulligan as Bernstein's wife Felicia Montealegre and promises to focus on 30 years of the composer's life. Also starring are Matt Bomer, Maya Hawke, Sarah Silverman, and Michael Urie. The project is produced by Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, the latter of which directed a remake of West Side Story in 2021. Spielberg was initially attached to direct Maestro before he handed the reigns to Cooper.
Maestro is scheduled for a limited theatrical release on Nov. 22 followed by its streaming release on Netflix on Dec. 20.