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The ethics of a nose: Netflix’s “Maestro” raises questions from critics

Released+on+Nov.+22%2C+%E2%80%9CMaestro%E2%80%9D+pays+a+respectful+tribute+to+Jewish+composer+among+offensive+minority+representation+in+Hollywood.
Zoe Boxenbaum ’25
Released on Nov. 22, “Maestro” pays a respectful tribute to Jewish composer among offensive minority representation in Hollywood.

After six years of preparation, an $80 million budget, 129 minutes of run time and one prosthetic nose, “Maestro” (a biopic about legendary Jewish composer Leonard Bernstein) has proven to be a box office success for actor/director Bradley Cooper.  That said, the release has not been without criticism from average viewers and film experts alike, especially surrounding the use of a prosthetic nose to capture a facial representation of Bernstein. 

As a Jew, I was stunned that in today’s day and age, a major Hollywood production would choose to augment a non-Jewish actors nose in order to portray a Jewish composer. Tolerance for minority representation in Hollywood has notably decreased, and any digression from this progress seemed like a massive roadblock in the journey to fair and accurate representation of all historically misrepresented groups. 

An undercurrent of anti-semitism has taken hold of America for centuries, with peaks and valleys through time. In numerous plays, movies and shows, Jews are depicted as greedy and conniving, with physical misrepresentations being centered around traditional curled sideburns called “Payot,” Kippahs and large noses, all being placed onto non-Jewish actors. This misrepresentation has run rampant through many other minority groups, from the depiction of an Asian man by white actor Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in 1961 to white comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s black-faced imitation of former NBA player Karl Malone in 2000.

Tolerance for minority representation in Hollywood has notably decreased, and any digression from this progress seemed like a massive roadblock in the journey to fair and accurate representation of all historically misrepresented groups.

— Zoe Boxenbaum '25

 It seemed like a no-brainer for me to side with the critics, but surprisingly,  I found myself more and more siding in favor of the film.  

There is merit in the applause being afforded to “Maestro.” The film threads the delicate waters of minority representation with a consciousness and sensibility that is lacking in outdated sporting offensive racial caricatures. Maestro makes no notable mention of Bernstein’s religious identity or heritage to enhance the story, rendering the prosthetic nose ultimately unnecessary, but its subtlety and lack of mention falls below the radar of any form of insensitive commentary that could easily be employed by any film making any choice regarding how minorities are depicted.

“Maestro” serves as an exemplar for future films for how to fairly represent and pay respect to an individual without the storyline hinging on stereotypes. It is true to me now more than ever that there is no one-size-fits-all answer for whether or not an actor should be portraying an identity that is not their own. It is impossible for every viewer of every film to take the same side on these types of sensitive issues because they are so inherently personal. Considering this, I can discern for myself that I must form my opinion on a case-by-case basis, but “Maestro” gets my stamp of approval. 

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About the Contributor
Zoe Boxenbaum ’25, Broadcast Director
Zoe Boxenbaum ’25 has always been musically-inclined. At 9-years-old, she learned to play a variety of instruments from the electric bass to the piano. Now, as Broadcast Director for Inklings, Boxenbaum uses her musicality to connect with her school community.  “Being musical helps me appreciate and seek out other people’s unique talents,” she said.  Boxenbaum was drawn to broadcast journalism because of her desire to tell stories that are interactive, rather than simply written on paper. “Broadcasts allow people to show their skills, instead of just talking about them,” Boxenbaum said. “Musicians, for example, are given the chance to play.” 

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