After Netflix released the first trailer for Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro,” a biographical romance about Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia Montealegre, many viewers took issue with Cooper’s large prosthetic nose, deeming it the latest example of Hollywood’s stereotypical or inauthentic portrayal of Jewish people, known as “Jewface.”
But in a statement posted to Bernstein’s Twitter account, the late conductor’s children defended Cooper’s decision to “use makeup to amplify his resemblance” to their father. Cooper directed “Maestro” and stars as Bernstein opposite Carey Mulligan as Montealegre.
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“Bradley Cooper included the three of us along every step of his amazing journey as he made his film about our father,” wrote Jamie, Alexander and Nina Bernstein. “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.”
They continued, “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. Any strident complaints around this issue strike us above all as disingenuous attempts to bring a successful person down a notch — a practice we observed all too often perpetrated on our own father. At all times during the making of this film, we could feel the profound respect and yes, the love that Bradley brought to his portrait of Leonard Bernstein and his wife, our mother Felicia. We feel so fortunate to have had this experience with Bradley, and we can’t wait for the world to see his creation.”
Helen Mirren became entangled in a “Jewface” controversy last year when it was announced she would play former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in Guy Nattiv’s “Golda,” which premieres in U.S. theaters on Aug. 25. Actor Maureen Lipman told the Jewish Chronicle that she “disagreed” with Mirren’s casting “because the Jewishness of the character is so integral. I’m sure she will be marvellous, but it would never be allowed for Ben Kingsley to play Nelson Mandela. You just couldn’t even go there.” Other recent examples of non-Jews cast as famous Jewish people include Kathryn Hahn as Joan Rivers, Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Gary Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz.
Speaking on the “Jewface” controversy, actor Tracy Ann Oberman told Variety, “As actors, we should be able to play anyone. That is our job and I’ve had a wide and varied career playing a multitude of parts. However, we are living in a time of enormous sensitivity around the appropriation of characters played by people who aren’t from that background. I have seen little similar concern about Jewish characters where their Jewish religious and cultural identity is intrinsic to who they are being discussed with the same respect.”
“Maestro” will premiere in competition at the 80th Venice Film Festival on Sept. 2, and it will be the spotlight gala film at New York Film Festival on Oct. 2. The movie will then have a limited theatrical window starting Nov. 22 before hitting Netflix on Dec. 20.
The film, which is produced by Cooper, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, focuses on Bernstein’s tumultuous 25-year marriage to Montealegre. The cast also includes Maya Hawke as their daughter Jamie, Sam Nivola as their son Alexander and Alexa Swinton as their daughter Nina. Additional cast members include Matt Bomer, Sarah Silverman, Gideon Glick, Michael Urie and Miriam Shor.
Fred Berner, Amy Durning and Kristie Macosko Krieger also produce the film, from Sikelia Productions, Amblin Entertainment, Lea Pictures and Fred Berner Films. Cooper co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer.
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