It’s not yet known how heavily Bernstein’s Jewish heritage will be featured in Maestro, and critics have not even reviewed the film yet as it is set to premiere in Venice next month, with a release on Netflix only in December.
The controversy around ‘casting in your lane’ has been a hot topic in the new ‘woke Hollywood’. In 2018, Scarlett Johansson backed out of playing a transgender man in Rub & Tug. Her withdrawal came a year after she starred in the Hollywood version of the anime film Ghost In The Shell, in which she was criticised for playing a Japanese character.
Tom Hanks, who played a gay man dying of Aids in the 1993 film Philadelphia, said last year that, as a straight man, he could not play such a character today, “and rightly so”. Eddie Redmayne also recently reassessed his role in the 2015 film The Danish Girl, saying his decision to play a transgender woman was a “mistake”.
Although these films have all been scrutinised to death, and in many ways are concerning, as Hollywood has a tendency to ‘Americanise’ certain foreign characters, comedian and writer David Baddiel says he doesn’t understand why the same logic about authentic casting doesn’t always appear to apply to films or shows about Jews.
He believes that “Jews remain the only minority where you don’t have to cast the actor in line with the real thing”.
“There will be instant outrage and consequences to the casting of a trans part to anyone but a trans actor,” he says, referencing the response to Rub & Tug.
“I’m pointing out the discrepancy, the fact there is no outrage [about Jewish roles]”.
According to an article in BBC, one of the problems with trying to authentically capture the Jewish experience on screen is it can’t be portrayed in a one-size-fits-all way. Judy Klass, a lecturer of Jewish Studies and English at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, recently said it’s a murky issue as “no one knows exactly what Jews are”.
“Many people who want to completely assimilate would still be considered Jewish by certainly Hitler, but also modern white supremacists. It’s a very murky issue.”
In Klass’s opinion, there is no one face of Judaism – meaning stereotypes like Cooper’s large nose are unwelcome in the minds of some Jews.
British actor Tracy-Ann Oberman, who is Jewish and currently playing Jewish character Shylock in a production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, also addressed the issue on social media recently, conceding that if someone has the skills to play a part, they should.
Oberman asked why Cooper, as the director of the film, did not consider a Jewish actor instead of himself, but challenged his acting to “be so magnificent and truthful that the character of Bernstein shines through what he already looks like”.