Bradley Cooper playing Bernstein? No one should be wearing a big fake nose when portraying a Jewish man

As a Jewish theatre director, I have spent a lot of the past few years considering good practice and ethics in the casting of Jewish characters in theatre, TV and film. It is a complex knot to untangle and a moving target.

While I personally do not believe that all Jewish characters always have to be played by Jewish actors, I think we can agree that in 2023 no one should be wearing a big fake nose when portraying a Jewish man. Especially when that actor is not Jewish. Even more especially when the prosthetic nose in question is significantly bigger than the actual nose that the actual Jewish person being portrayed had.

It seems evident that to play Leonard Bernstein, Bradley Cooper is jumping on the Oscar-bait bandwagon of using make-up to alter his normatively handsome, symmetrical appearance in order to foreground a sense of visible transformation – often a shortcut intended to indicate “real acting”. But doing so also represents a decision to emphasise a facial feature long associated with negative and antisemitic depictions of Jewish people. As I’ve said, the prosthetics don’t realistically portray the nose of Bernstein, but instead overemphasise this key feature. It may stop Cooper from looking like Cooper but it doesn’t to my eye make him look more like Bernstein.


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