The makeup artist at the centre of the controversy over Maestro star Bradley Cooper’s prosthetic nose has apologised, following accusations of “Jewface”.
Maestro, which premiered at the Venice film festival this weekend, is a biopic starring Cooper, 48, as the American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, 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).
Jewish-British actor Tracy-Ann Oberman was among those to call out the use of the fake nose, calling the move “the equivalent of Black-Face or Yellow-Face”.
Speaking at a press conference at the Venice film festival, Kazu Hiro said he was surprised by the upset.
He said: “I wasn’t expecting it to happen. I feel sorry if I hurt some people’s feelings. My goal was and Bradley’s goal was to portray Lenny as authentically as possible. Lenny had a really iconic look that everybody knows.
“There’s so many pictures out there because he’s photogenic, too – such a great person and also inspired so many people. So we wanted to respect the look, including what’s going on inside. So that’s why we did several different tests and went through lots of decisions and that was the outcome in the movie. That was our only intention.”
Hiro has won two Oscars over the course of his career, with his first for turning Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill for The Darkest Hour, and his second for transforming Charlize Theron into broadcaster Megyn Kelly in Bombshell.
In a four-star review of the film for The Independent, Geoffrey Macnab wrote that, despite the nose controversy, “no one who sees the film will argue that this is anything other than an affectionate portrait”.
Cooper directed, co-wrote and stars in the Netflix film. The actor himself has not commented on the “Jewface” claims.
Bernstein’s children, Jamie, Alexander and Nina, who attended the premiere and are also depicted in the movie, previously defended Cooper, saying: “It breaks our hearts to see any misrepresentations or misunderstandings of [Cooper’s] efforts.
“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.”
During the standing ovation for the film at the Venice premiere, Cooper’s children waved their arms like conductors and danced to their father’s music with tears in their eyes.
I’ve never seen a standing ovation like this at #Venezia80. As the credits rolled on Bradley Cooper’s #Maestro, Leonard Bernstein’s three kids — Jamie, Alexander and Nina — waved their arms like conductors and danced to their dad’s music with tears in their eyes. pic.twitter.com/V2G1aR6RPu
— Ramin Setoodeh (@RaminSetoodeh) September 2, 2023
The Anti-Defamation League has also defended Cooper, who was not at the Venice premiere due to Hollywood strikes, saying the use of prosthetics was not inherently antisemitic.
“Throughout history, Jews were often portrayed in antisemitic films and propaganda as evil caricatures with large, hooked noses,” the ADL said in a statement to Variety. “This film, which is a biopic on the legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein, is not that.”