Is Bradley Cooper’s Prosthetic Leonard Bernstein Nose Problematic?

Cooper, who is not Jewish, has faced criticism for donning a fake nose to play the composer

Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper in "Maestro." Cooper is facing scrutiny for donning a prosthetic nose for his role.
Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper in "Maestro."

On Tuesday, Netflix released the first photos from its forthcoming Leonard Bernstein biopic, Maestro. Bradley Cooper, who directed the film and also stars as the legendary composer, is almost unrecognizable under layers of prosthetics — especially in old-age makeup as the elderly Bernstein. But it’s one prosthetic in particular that is raising eyebrows and prompting questions of whether the role should have gone to someone else.

Cooper, who is not Jewish, wears a prosthetic nose in the movie to better resemble Bernstein, and some people have taken issue with the actor wearing what they’re describing as “Jew-face.”

Cooper’s heart is most likely in the right place, and while he’s probably just trying to look as much like his character as possible, he should have realized that the optics of a non-Jewish actor donning a fake nose to play a Jewish person would probably raise some red flags. If anything, it highlights the ongoing issue of Hollywood casting non-Jewish performers to play iconic Jewish people while relegating actual Jewish actors to supporting roles.

But even if we remove Judaism from the equation entirely, why not cast someone who…already has a nose like that? Surely there’s a talented actor out there somewhere who physically resembles Leonard Bernstein more than Bradley Cooper does, and he likely has been forced into a career as a “character actor” due to his looks. Hollywood has a long history of casting more conventionally attractive leading men and women and then burying them under prosthetics, whether it’s Renee Zellweger donning a fat suit for The Thing About Pam or Jared Leto in a bald cap and fake jowls in House of Gucci. Meanwhile, performers whose looks deviate at all from the industry’s cookie-cutter beauty standards are shut out from major roles — even the ones they’d be a physical match for.

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