Though [Leonard Bernstein’s] life and image have been captured in the documentary film form, the TV streaming company, Netflix, is due to release the dramatized Maestro this fall, first in theaters and then on the platform. Producers could have chosen from a significant array of talented world-class Jewish actors. Since Bradley Cooper with Steven Spielberg bought the music rights to the film in 2018, however, and Cooper wrote and directed the film, he cast himself as its star.
While Cooper has certainly shown that he is a competent (verging on brilliant) actor, the fact that he is not Jewish limits the potential for true “representation.” To add further insult, pre-screening publicity pictures and the film’s trailer show Cooper wearing a prosthetic nose.
Notwithstanding the fact that members of Leonard Bernstein’s family supported the film’s casting, the plastic schnoz makes him look like nothing more than Bradley Cooper with a silly-looking nose approaching that of a circus clown.
Cooper’s image resembles the antisemitic caricatures from the 18th century onward, the ones depicting the evil, bulbous-nosed Jewish bankers often representing members of the Rothchild family, with their hands grabbing into and covering the globe.
Jews, however, are certainly not the only members of marginalized communities who have been misrepresented in the classroom and in the media.
Blackface — when people darken their skin with shoe polish, grease paint, or burnt cork or wood and exaggerate their lips and other facial features — has been the mainstay of U.S. popular culture since soon after the Civil War. It dates back centuries to European theatrical productions, most notably to Shakespeare’s “Othello.” It is founded in racism.
“It’s an assertion of power and control,” says David Leonard , a professor of comparative ethnic studies and American studies at Washington State University. “It allows a society to routinely and historically imagine African Americans as not fully human. It serves to rationalize violence and Jim Crow segregation.”
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