Helen Mirren and Bradley Cooper raise casting questions with ‘Golda’ and ‘Maestro’

by -24 Views


Bradley Cooper and Helen Mirren have very different resumes, but they have landed in similar controversies with their latest movies, illustrating shifting standards and sensitivities about actors donning prosthetics to play Jewish characters.

The first wave of that discussion came in response to images of Cooper’s makeup to resemble Leonard Bernstein for the upcoming biography “Maestro.” Mirren has drawn more attention in the UK for playing Golda Meir in the historical drama “Golda,” which opens this week.

Detractors have criticized the optics of Cooper wearing a more pronounced nose to enhance his resemblance to the late Jewish conductor, a device Mirren also employs in “Golda,” in which she plays the Israeli prime minister during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

Defenders (among them Bernstein’s children) have pointed out that actors have done this since time immemorial, seeking to look more like historical figures, whether that involves putting lifts in their shoes to match Abraham Lincoln’s height or applying mobster Al Capone’s trademark scar.

Admittedly, what’s deemed acceptable has changed through the years, and evoking the past is made thornier by Hollywood’s ignominious history of having White actors stand in for underrepresented groups, including Blacks, Hispanics, Native-Americans and Asians.

More recently, the debate has often shifted beyond racial and ethnic distinctions to other sources of sensitivity, such as Brendan Fraser wearing a fat suit to star in “The Whale.”

The irony is that the challenge associated with undergoing a significant transformation has historically gone hand in hand with awards recognition, the sort of accolades that both films are clearly courting. Few years highlight that better than 1980, which included John Hurt’s ordeal to resemble “The Elephant Man” and Robert De Niro packing on 60 pounds to bring authenticity to Jake LaMotta’s post-boxing physique in “Raging Bull.”

No two situations are exactly alike, although Cooper/Bernstein and Mirren/Meir come close, raising questions about whether non-Jewish actors altering how they look to portray Jews can tip over into the appearance of antisemitism.

Mirren’s casting provoked initial discussion in the UK when the movie completed production last year. Comedian and author David Baddiel told Variety the issue wasn’t about “Golda” specifically, but why “non-authentic” portrayals were deemed inappropriate in seeking “a level playing field for minorities” but not necessarily in regard to Jews.

While Mirren and the film’s director, Guy Nattiv, have defended the choice, Mirren told the Daily Mail the questions were “utterly legitimate.”

As historian David M. Perry recently observed for CNN, “Any non-Jewish person putting on a fake nose in order to portray a Jew is colliding with a grim history.”

Still, it’s hard to escape the sense the Cooper “controversy” gained traction in part due to the actor’s celebrity, while reflecting how far the pendulum has swung from the past, when those first images wouldn’t have raised many eyebrows. Amid the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, Cooper has not yet publicly addressed the criticism.

Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in

Writing in Slate, Mark Harris articulated that counterargument, trying not to wholly dismiss naysayers while pointing out that acting requires “inhabiting someone you are clearly not.” Addressing the specifics of the Cooper situation, he suggested this is, in essence, the wrong battle to fight, concluding that there’s enough overt and troubling antisemitism to combat that we don’t “need to waste time and energy trying to find it in a fake nose.”

“Golda” further muddies the fact-vs.-fiction waters by incorporating actual footage of Meir and Henry Kissinger in concert with Mirren and Liev Schreiber playing them. (In perhaps the movie’s best line, Meir wakes the US diplomat with a latenight call by saying wryly, “We’ve got trouble with the neighbors again.”)

Mirren isn’t the first performer bearing scant resemblance to Meir to put on makeup to portray her. She follows Ingrid Bergman, who won an Emmy for the 1982 miniseries “A Woman Called Golda.”

Much has changed for the better in the 40 years between those roles. Yet the fact society has rightly become more sensitized to these issues – and that clearly offensive past practices are no longer acceptable – doesn’t provide much clarity in gray areas such as these. There’s room for good-faith differences of opinion, in other words, about where these lines exist and what crosses them, or, in the case of “Maestro” and “Golda,” respectfully tiptoes up to them.

“Golda” premieres August 25 in US theaters. It’s rated PG-13.

“Maestro” is scheduled for limited theatrical release in November and Netflix in December after premiering at the Venice International Film Festival.

Sumber: www.cnn.com

No More Posts Available.

No more pages to load.