On Tuesday, Netflix debuted the first trailer for Maestro, one of the streamer’s likely Oscar contenders of 2023. But in giving viewers their first major glimpse at director/co-writer/star Bradley Cooper’s follow-up to A Star Is Born—where he plays Leonard Bernstein and Carey Mulligan plays Bernstein’s wife Felicia Montealegre—it’s also putting a spotlight on an aspect of Cooper’s Bernstein that’s making some viewers uncomfortable.
Maestro’s teaser trailer takes us through different periods of Bernstein and Montealegre’s lives together, often indicated by whether the scene is black-and-white or color or how much old-age makeup Cooper and Mulligan wear at any given point. But even in Berstein’s youngest appearance, Cooper wears plenty of prosthetics: Throughout the movie, he dons a fake nose to look more like Bernstein.
People first learned about Cooper’s fake nose when Netflix released first-look images last year, which bothered them at the time. But with the release of the new trailer, old complaints are resurfacing, and new complaints from people who weren’t aware of what Cooper would do to embody the role.
As some pointed out, Cooper looked similar enough to Bernstein without any prosthetics—and adding them gives the character an even bigger nose than his real-life counterpart. It stood out even more for them, as demonstrated when several people posted pictures of a young Bernstein and Cooper in the trailer side-by-side.
Hollywood has a long history of actors donning prosthetic noses for a role, whether they’re playing Cyrano de Bergerac (a character with a famously large nose), a real-life person, or something out of a fantasy. They’re used to make someone look more like a certain character, but in some cases, they might be employed to deglamorize a big star; Nicole Kidman-as-Virginia-Woolf’s fake nose in The Hours is so infamous it’s still something of a punchline today.
But some have pointed out the potential antisemitic undertones—and playing into longstanding stereotypes around Jewish people—of having Cooper (who isn’t Jewish) put on a bigger nose to play a Jewish composer. One person went as far as to call it “jewface,” a criticism that also came up last year with the first-look photos.
As we see more of Maestro and the first reactions and reviews come out of the Venice Film Festival next month, the debate about whether Cooper needed to wear the prosthetic in the first place or if it’s needlessly offensive will likely continue.
“Bradley cooper is putting himself in an insanely large prosthetic nose to play a jewish man in maestro and we’re all just supposed to act like that’s cool and normal ?” @hrt_beats wrote.
Maestro will debut in select theaters on Nov. 22, 2023, and will drop on Netflix on Dec. 20.
Update 12:25pm CT, Aug. 16: Bernstein and Montealegre’s three children—Jamie, Alexander, and Nina Bernstein—released a joint statement addressing the backlash to Cooper’s prosthetic nose in Maestro. Praising Cooper for his care in telling their father’s story and including them in the journey, they also affirmed their support for Cooper’s decision to “use makeup to amplify his resemblance.”
“It breaks our hearts to see any misrepresentations or misunderstandings of his efforts,” they said. “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.”
They also feel that the complaints lobbed Cooper’s way are dishonest attempts to take him down, comparing it with the treatment that Bernstein himself received during his career.
“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,” they continued.