Maestro: Leonard Bernstein Movie Facing Backlash

Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper in a first look image from Maestro. Courtesy of Netflix.

Bradley Cooper’s upcoming Leonard Bernstein biopic, Maestro, is facing a backlash following the first look images being released.

Cooper stars as Leonard Bernstein while Carey Mulligan stars as his wife, Felicia Cohn Montealegre. Mulligan’s casting has been rightfully called out for being a white British woman starring as a biracial Latina woman of Jewish descent. Bernstein’s wife later converted from Catholicism to Judaism but her paternal grandfather was Jewish.

It is seriously wrong for a non-Jewish actor to wear a prosthetic nose and make themselves look Jewish. Unfortunately, some people don’t understand why this is so wrong on many levels. At the end of the day, this movie is Oscar bait and people are going to just look the other way when they would be dissing films to shreds if it were a white actor transforming into any other ethnicity or race. That being said, even among the comments I’ve seen from fellow Jews, some are just outright indifferent while others are appropriately upset by Cooper.

Jake Gyllenhaal arrives on the red carpet of the 94th Oscars
Jake Gyllenhaal arrives on the red carpet of the 94th Oscars® at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood in Los Angeles, CA, on Sunday, March 27, 2022. (Michael Baker / A.M.P.A.S.)

In a perfect world, Jake Gyllenhaal would have acquired the rights from Leonard Bernstein’s estate to use the composer’s music. Instead, they gave the rights to Bradley Cooper on the heels of A Star Is Born. This was a dream role for Gyllenhaal but without the rights, his project was dead in the water. This brings us to Monday. When I first received the email in my inbox, my first thought was: this is a federal holiday, please leave me alone. And then upon scrolling through social media, you could not miss it. Bradley Cooper is wearing a prosthetic nose so as to make the actor look Jewish. No, thanks.

If you’re going to bring Leonard Bernstein’s story to the screen, you need to do a better job at casting a Jewish person. Sure, some Jews might not be as ethnic looking as others but what Cooper is doing here is exactly what Sarah Silverman is calling out. Worst of all, the makeup work will no doubt earn an Oscar nomination. Sadly, it is unlikely that anybody will stop and think about what if this were a transformation into a different ethnicity. You and I both know that if it were a different ethnicity, that actor would be committing career suicide and the project would be dead in the water. But when it comes to biopics about Jews, nobody seems to care about authenticity. We’re already seeing it with the Golda Meir biopic starring Helen Mirren.

What makes everything even worse is that Bradley Cooper is directing and starring in the project. If he wants to direct the film, fine. But to star as Bernstein, too? This is where we have to call it out for what it is: Jewface. Listen, if the term comes off as insulting, that’s because there aren’t really many other words to call it. Sarah Silverman already put the phrase out into the vernacular and so we’re going to run with it. Look at what Cooper is doing and then look at Robert Downey Jr’s performance as Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder. You could not make that film today even if it is a satire of everything wrong with Hollywood.

One thing I hear being brought up in the conversation is Cooper being a name actor. I’m sorry but this doesn’t really suffice in an era of Netflix films getting brief theatrical releases. Had it not been for the pandemic, West Side Story would have made more money this past year. Guess what? Look at Rachel Zegler’s status prior to joining the cast of the Steven Spielberg movie. To say that you need a name actor doesn’t exactly cut it and this is even more so when the film’s ability to succeed does not require butts in seats at a movie theater. An indie film needing financing is one thing. However, this is a movie that will that is going to stream on Netflix so the money argument is already not going to work.

Here’s Ben M. Freeman on people being aggressive in their disagreement over Jews playing Jews on screen:

I want to end on this note: Too many times, I hear people dismissing the complaints as “acting is acting.” This is never more true than over the past few days. The same thing happened a few years ago with Girl‘s launch at Cannes. Try being talked over by cis people (especially cis gay men) in explaining why it is wrong for cis males to be playing trans roles! I’m hoping the days of cis males playing trans women in movies and TV series are over. There is a big push for authenticity on the screen in every aspect except Jews.

Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro
Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in a first look image from Maestro. Courtesy of Netflix.

Cooper and Mulligan star alongside Matt Bomer and Maya Hawke. Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Bradley Cooper, Fred Berner, and Amy Durning produce.

Netflix will release Maestro at a later date.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.