The first trailer, which was released on Tuesday (15 August), gives viewers an early look at Cooper in the role of the renowned musician, who was Jewish.
Described as “a love letter to life and art”, Maestro– co-produced by Hollywood heavyweights Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg – depicts the decades-long relationship between Bernstein and his wife, Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein (Carey Mulligan).
Both Cooper and Mulligan wear prosthetics in the movie, in order to play older versions of their characters. However, it is the fake nose worn by Cooper that is generating controversy among film fans, with the 48-year-old accused of “fuelling antisemitic stereotypes”.
“All actors should be able to play any part with their skill. However we are living in times where there is huge sensitivity and debate over ethnic and minority representation,” British actor Tracy-Ann Oberman wrote on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.
“If Bradley Cooper green lights your film to play the Jewish composer Bernstein and you want him over a Jewish A-Lister who can equally play that role – then let Bradley Cooper’s acting be so magnificent and truthful that the character of Bernstein shines through what he already looks like.
“If he needs to wear a prosthetic nose then that is, to me and many others, the equivalent of Black-Face or Yellow-Face,” she added.
“Cillian [Murphy] could play Oppenheimer because he looks like Oppenheimer and could get the power of the man’s story and Jewishness through the power of his acting, ditto Tom Conti as Einstein didn’t have to ‘wear’ a nose.”
She concluded: “If Bradley Cooper can’t do it through the power or acting alone then don’t cast him – get a Jewish Actor.”
Author Ben M Freeman wrote: “Bradley Cooper should not be playing Leonard Bernstein. He should not be wearing a prosthetic nose.”
Other critics have pointed out that Cooper’s prosthetic nose appears to be larger than its real-life counterpart.
“This isn’t about making a non-Jewish actor look more like Leonard Bernstein; it’s about making a non-Jewish actor look more like a Jewish stereotype,” Joel Swanson wrote on X, sharing a side-by-side comparison of Cooper in character, and Bernstein.
The Independent has contacted Cooper for comment.
The revelation that Cooper would wear a fake nose to play Bernstein first emerged in the form of a still image last year.
Writing for The Independent, Noah Berlatsky criticised Cooper’s decision and said that using prosthetics “effectively turns Jewish people into their physical characteristics. It makes us caricatures.”
“A biopic of a celebrated, talented Jewish artist shouldn’t encourage these kinds of antisemitic stereotypes,” he said. “But Cooper appears, unfortunately, to have gotten stuck on those stereotypes himself. Asked to portray a complicated musician, composer and human being, Cooper couldn’t see past Bernstein’s nose. That doesn’t bode well for the quality of the biopic. And it’s not great for Jewish people either.”
Actor and producer Jake Gyllenhaal, who has Jewish heritage, previously spoke of his disappointment upon losing a bid for the rights to a Bernstein film to Cooper, admitting he had been yearning to play “one of the most preeminent Jewish artists in America” for almost two decades.
“No one likes to admit this, but, we got beat at our own game,” he told Deadline in 2021.
“That’s basically what happened. There’s really nothing more to say about it than that. There’s always another project. Sticking your neck out, hoping to get to tell the stories you love and that have been in your heart for a very long time is something to be proud of.”
He continued: “And that story, that idea of playing one of the most preeminent Jewish artists in America and his struggle with his identity was in my heart for 20-some-odd years, but sometimes those things don’t work out. In this business, if you’re lucky enough to stick it out for a while, we can easily forget that getting to tell the story isn’t the most important thing.
“I mean, this is our life. Gotta enjoy it. Bottom line, and this may be my Achilles heel or it may be my superpower, but I wish them the best.”
Maestro will be in select UK cinemas on 24 November 2023 and on Netflix from 20 December 2023.