Helen Mirren is a renowned British actor who is predominantly known for her versatility and her acclaimed performances in various films and TV shows as well as theater. She has received various accolades for her distinguishable performance, including an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Queen (2006). Recently, the actress, along with renowned Hollywood actor Bradley Cooper, has fallen into controversy for playing a biopic of a historical figure.

Helen Mirren’s controversial portrayal of Jewish figure sparks debate

Helen Mirren for playing Jewish figure Golda Meir
Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in Golda

Helen Mirren for playing a controversial historical Jewish figure Golda Meir has sparked controversy for illustrating changing norms and perspectives by using makeup to depict the character. Similarly, Bradley Cooper is criticized for the prospect of playing a Jewish persona in the upcoming biography Maestro.

Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv grew up with negative views of the former Israeli Prime Minister in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Israelis considered her a pariah or outcast for her administrative oversight in managing documents related to the Yom Kippur War in 1973, which caused severe turmoil in the country. When the documents were made public after 10 years, people learned of her innocence, who had been decisively tarnished by the men around her simply because she was a woman.

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Image of Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren

Subsequently, Nattiv decided to make a film on the Golda Mier starring Helen Mirren as Meir. Since the actor has to go through a significant transformation to play the role, defenders raise questions, pointing out that it is not appropriate to cast a non-Jewish actor to portray a Jewish character, saying it is disrespectful and offensive.

Mirren’s casting especially provoked initial discussion in the UK. Comedian and author David Baddiel told Variety that the issue wasn’t about Golda, and expressed his concern over considering cultural and religious sensitivity for casting. Similarly, the directors Nattiv and Mirren acknowledged the defenders, saying, “It’s utterly legitimate.” But regardless of the criticism around it, with little fire and less spark, Golda garnered negative reviews and reportedly underperformed in theaters.

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Critics slam Bradley Cooper’s altered appearance for Maestro

Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro
Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro

Detractors have also criticized the appearance of Bradley Cooper in Maestro wearing a bigger nose to enhance his resemblance to the late Jewish conductor Leonard Bernstein. First off the debate is not about him wearing the nose but similar to Mirren, about non Jewish actor playing the role.

It is noted that Hollywood is accustomed to transforming characters for biopics to any extent necessary to bring the same look to the personas. For instance, actors wear special shoes to match the height of Abraham Lincoln, or they replicate famous scars the president had. Well, that’s acceptable, but Hollywood has an even longer history of casting white actors as historic figures from underrepresented groups like black, Native American, and Asian characters.

Bradley Copper playing Jewish historical figure Leonard Bernstein.
Bradley Copper will be playing

At the same time, ironically, the challenges associated with character transformation have always gone hand in hand with awards and nominations. John Hurt changed his appearance for The Elephant Man. The film’s director believes that the controversy surrounding the actor does not hold any weight and that it feels silly to focus on minor details like a fake nose.

Maestro, which is scheduled for theatrical release in November, will be streaming on Netflix by December after premiering at the Venice Film Festival.

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Source: Variety

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