By Gabe Friedman
As Netflix released the first stills from the set of “Maestro,” Bradley Cooper’s biopic film about Leonard Bernstein that will likely be released in 2023, there was one thing most fans could agree about.
Cooper looked utterly unrecognizable, especially in one image as an elderly version of the iconic Jewish conductor.
But as legions of angry social media users pointed out, part of Cooper’s transformation involved a prosthetic nose, something that many found to be antisemitic — especially since Cooper is not Jewish.
Even though actors frequently adapt their bodies while playing historical figures, conversations about how many non-Jews play Jewish characters in Hollywood have circulated for years.
But the “Jewface” debate received a boost last year, especially after non-Jewish actress Kathryn Hahn was cast as the outspokenly Jewish comedy pioneer Joan Rivers (in a series that was eventually dropped). Comedian Sarah Silverman made headlines by berating the casting on an episode of her podcast.
The Bernstein biopic discourse has been particularly charged since 2018, when Cooper and Steven Spielberg — who was first slated to direct “Maestro,” before it became Cooper’s directorial follow-up to his 2016 hit remake of “A Star Is Born” — beat out the actor-director team of Jake Gyllenhaal and Cary Fukunaga in securing the music rights from Bernstein’s estate.
In talking about the Bernstein sweepstakes in an interview last year, Gyllenhaal — who like Spielberg is Jewish — mentioned Bernstein’s Jewishness in admitting defeat.
“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,” he told Deadline.
Some fans resurfaced the possibility of a Bernstein played by Gyllenhaal in their swipes at the on-set images of Cooper.