Bradley Cooper is directing and starring in the biographical film about famous conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, called bandleader artist. Biography of Leonard Bernstein? Isn’t it great! Bernstein wrote music for West side story, among many other musicals, and has directed several major orchestras. He was also a humanitarian who worked for civil rights and protested the Vietnam War, and privately struggled to keep his sexuality a secret until he finally decided to live with his lover, Tom Cowtheran. I personally used to put my kids to bed with Bernstein’s kids Young Performers #1: Peter and the Wolf Quietly to sleep his resonant novel. Bernstein was a complex, talented, and emotional person, and any biopic about him would be fascinating and moving.
Leonard Bernstein was also a Jew.
There is a long tradition of non-Jewish actors playing Jewish characters, and Bradley Cooper continues this by playing Bernstein. Having non-Jewish actors playing Jews is already a problem for several reasons. As I mentioned in my post on Photography by Oscar Isaac by Mark SpectorJudaism is often confused with a purely religious identity, in part because large parts of Jewish civilization were wiped out during the Holocaust. People think it doesn’t matter if the Jewish parts go to non-Jews, without asking themselves what hidden bias they might be ashamed of hiring Jewish actors for these roles.
In this case, though, there’s an extra layer of yikes: maestro Make-up artist Kazuo Hero put Cooper in heavy prosthetics to make him look more like Bernstein. One such prosthetic involves a large fake nose.
Now, let’s get this out of the way first: Kazu Hiro is an amazing makeup artist! His work in sculpture and prosthetics is incredibly detailed and realistic, and has already won one Oscar. His job was to turn Cooper into a completely different person, and he did. Also, yes, I am aware that Steven Spielberg signed this movie. Jews are not a cell brain!
With that said, though, Cooper and everyone else involved in this movie should have taken a moment to ask themselves why, exactly, it was so important to Cooper to look exactly like a normal-looking guy like Bernstein. Would they have made the same decision if Bernstein had not been Jewish? Is there something about the Ashkenazi Jewish look to be captured with pounds of prosthetics — even when real Jewish actors are abandoned for the role? mean what is it? Are we Jews close enough to “normal” people that it’s okay for Gentiles to play us, or are we so weird that you need several layers of rubber to look like one of us?
Furthermore, what happened to the actors who brought a historical figure to life through acting? Jessica Chastain wore bushy hair and lots of eyeshadow Tami Faye’s eyesand in I saw the lightTom Hiddleston has brown lenses and a cowboy hat. They did just fine! (I mean, I saw the light Not a good movie, but Hiddleston is great at it.) The movie isn’t a wax museum—the audience cares about performance, not prosthetics.
Then there is the nose. Oh my God nose! The moment you say to yourself, “We’re going to put a big fake nose on this actor to make him look like that Jewish guy,” you should stop whatever you’re doing and roll that sentence on your tongue. Say it out loud to hear what it sounds like. Ask yourself why it gives you a vaguely uncomfortable feeling. So don’t go ahead with this idea!
I don’t want this situation to turn into a discussion about the size of Leonard Bernstein’s nose, because I’ve seen people talk about Ashkenazi noses all my life, and I’m sick of it. It’s sad to think that if I became famous enough that they made a bio about me, they would slap a big fake nose on the actress. (And maybe a clown wig too. I don’t know. I have to replicate that Jewish hair.) The point is, if you’ve been dropping an actor on the makeup chair for hours to make them look Jewish, you should probably just get a Jewish actor.
And if you tend to enlarge someone’s nose to make them appear more Jewish…just don’t.
(Featured image: Amblin Entertainment)
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