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Should Non-Jewish Actors Portray Jewish Characters?

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Should non-Jewish actors be allowed to portray Jewish characters? And if they do, what’s the deal with the big-nose prosthetics? Is that “Jewface”?

Bradley Cooper / Leonard Bernstein
Source: Netflix / Getty Images

When the trailer for Maestro starring Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein dropped on Aug. 15, 2023, the world went up in arms about Bradley’s very clearly prosthetic nose to portray a Jewish man. Bradley himself is Irish and Italian, so his decision (and yes, it was a decision) to play a Jewish (and gay) man has been hotly debated. But even further, his decision to wear a prosthetic nose has driven some controversy around the film.

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Bradley isn’t the only non-Jewish actor to play a Jewish character — Kathryn Hahn played a Rabbi in Transparent and Phyllis Shapiro in The Shrink Next Door; Rachel Brosnahan and Tony Shalhoub played the Jewish father and daughter pair in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; even as far back as 1956, Charlton Heston played Moses in The Ten Commandments.

Kathryn Hahn, Tony Shaloub, Charlton Heston
Source: Prime Video/Paramount Pictures

(l-r): Kathryn Hahn in ‘Transparent’, Tony Shaloub in ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’, Charlton Heston in ‘Ten Commandments’

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Now, the pattern continues as Bradley takes on famously Jewish composer Leonard Bernstein. But he’s not the only one putting on a fake nose to portray a cultural group of people. Helen Mirren is also set to play former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in Golda on Aug. 25, in which she also wears a prosthetic nose.

So, is that okay? Or is it “Jewface”? It’s time to sound off!

Casting directors should prioritize casting Jewish actors in Jewish roles — especially if they believe a prosthetic is needed to play the part.

If it’s that important to look like the figure an actor is cast to play and to “look Jewish” — a controversial phrase on its own — then it should be equally important to try to cast a Jewish person in a specific role. People might argue, ‘Should all non-Jewish roles be played by non-Jews?’

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Well, most roles aren’t dependent on a character’s religion. But many times, when a role is written to be “Jewish,” this includes aspects of generational trauma, anxiety, tradition, and even certain affectations that are considered Jewish. For example, there are stereotypes of the Jewish mother that, if done by a non-Jew, can come off as offensive.

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But one of the reasons this is complicated is because Judaism isn’t just a religion, whereas something like Christianity is. Judaism is also considered an ethnicity but can encompass people of any race. There are different sects of Judaism — Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, and Sephardic. However, most American and British people often conflate all Judaism with Ashkenazi Judaism, which often describes white Jews of Eastern European descent.

So the discussion around casting a Jewish person to play a Jewish character or historical figure is seen by non-Jews as a predominantly white problem. It’s often argued that Jews still benefit from white privilege and have equal opportunity to non-Jews to play non-Jewish roles. Furthermore, it begs the question — shouldn’t actors have the opportunity to act?

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But if we cast a white person to play a Black character or figure, even without a form of blackface, that would still be offensive. The problem here is conflating Judaism with a race. It’s not a race, but during the Holocaust, converting to Christianity couldn’t save many Jewish-born people. So how can we reconcile all these different factors around race, ethnicity, religion, and privilege?

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Well, Jews make up just 0.2 percent of the world’s population. Much of that was wiped out because of the Holocaust — the 6 million lives lost resulted in many millions more who were never born and many others who converted or assimilated to save their own lives. Just to put it in perspective, Kanye West has almost two times the amount of Twitter followers as there are Jews in the entire world.

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And if there’s anything to prove the age-old stereotype that “Jews control the media/Hollywood” isn’t true, it’s the fact that Jewish actors aren’t playing Jewish parts! How amazing would it be to see Tovah Feldshuh play Golda Meir or Jake Gyllenhaal play Leonard Bernstein? And especially with Jewish women, we’re often boxed into playing “funny best friend” characters rather than ingenues.

Regardless, I think it’s most important that Jewish stories get told, and get told well. If someone can beautifully act a Jewish role, I’d rather see that role exist than not see it at all. Perhaps if Bradley Cooper wasn’t producing Maestro, it wouldn’t get the audience or accolades anticipated.

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And before the trailer was released, many people didn’t even know who Leonard was! So if it can be done well, go for it, goyim. But that then has to apply to LGBTQ+ parts and other minority roles that aren’t solely race-based.

The issue with casting non-Jews in Jewish roles is the subsequent “Jewface,” which is also a controversial term.

See how complicated it is to be Jewish? Now, so many people are angry (or indifferent) about Bradley Cooper’s prosthetic nose. At the end of the day, if a non-Jew feels comfortable enough playing Jewish, they should be able to do so without prosthetics. One of the reasons so many Jews are offended by Bradley’s nose isn’t just because he barely even needs it to accurately portray Leonard, but because it harkens back to offensive cartoonish imagery of Jewish stereotypes.

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Helen Mirren as Golda Meir
Source: Bleecker Street

During the Holocaust and other periods of widespread antisemitism, Jews were often portrayed with large, hooked noses as a way to differentiate them from other people. As we said, Jews can look very different from one another, and they don’t all have the stereotypical big noses. But if it’s necessary to add this prosthetic to make Bradley’s performance believable, he must not be a very good actor.

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However, calling this “Jewface” is also insensitive to the history of Blackface and co-opts the term. It’s not nearly the same thing. Blackface was first used to portray offensive stereotypes of Black people at a time when Black people weren’t allowed to work in the entertainment industry.

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While we definitely shouldn’t conflate the two terms, wearing a prosthetic nose that isn’t even really necessary does stir up historically offensive stereotypes for some Jewish people. And even though Leonard Bernstein’s kids might be okay with Bradley’s portrayal — and let’s remember that they are also benefiting from the film — they don’t speak for all Jewish people.

Because many Jewish people are white and because many moved away from their home countries because of heightened antisemitism, they were forced to assimilate. This means that over multiple generations, many of us have grown desensitized to potentially antisemitic instances. There’s no right answer, but in my opinion, a fake nose is a step too far.

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Younger Generations Don’t Actually Benefit From Work

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In trying to explain the economic divide between Boomers and younger generations, one man figures out that the latter doesn’t benefit from work.

It feels like younger generations hear certain phrases from Boomers all the time about our work ethic, lifestyle, and expectations. Most of all, they call us “lazy” and say that we don’t want to work anymore. In reality, many of us have been working since we were teenagers and are still holding down challenging jobs.

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These conversations can be especially tricky during the holidays when older family members blame us for any financial shortcomings. “At your age, I had already bought my second home and had a child,” they might say. Luckily, comedian Brendon Lemon was able to make the logical argument on TikTok as to why younger generations don’t actually benefit from work.

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The Gen Z Workforce
Source: Getty Images

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Comedian Brendon Lemon figured out why younger generations don’t want to work — there’s no benefit.

When talking to his Boomer dad and uncles, Brendon made a point about the difference in generations and our expectations. “Why do people expect work to be good?” Brendon’s Boomer relatives tell him. “It’s not supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be comfortable, that’s why you call it work. We didn’t expect it to be comfortable, we labored in uncomfortable situations, and we did it in order to make a living. We didn’t expect luxuries. You guys expect luxuries.”

What luxuries do millennials and Gen Z expect? Sure, offices lure us in with nice coffee machines, ping pong tables, and in-office bars, but no one is asking for that. Those are all just distractions from low pay and even lower growth opportunities. Maybe if the office is nice, we won’t want to leave a job that takes us for granted as quickly. But at the end of the day, all people really want is enough money and time to have a life outside of work.

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“Who’s telling them that we want luxury?” Brendon asks. “And that for some reason we’re unwilling to put up with uncomfortable situations? All of us worked through college! I don’t know a single person who didn’t have a job, who didn’t work almost full-time all the way through college, even though they were going to college full-time.”

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“Secondly, most of us are just asking for healthcare and affordable housing. I don’t understand where the concept of luxury is coming from. A place to sleep and have some money to buy food and then maybe go out every once in a while is most of what people are asking for. And not to be terrified of future and retirement and dying poor and lonely.”

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But an emotional argument can only take us so far. When Brendon gets into actual statistics, it’s terrifying what we can see and how the future looks for future generations. Since 2000, there has been 62.34 percent inflation total.

For example, something that would have cost $5.38 in 2000 now costs at least $8.73. The CPI (Consumer Price Index) has increased by 500 percent since 1970, and college tuition has increased by 1,550 percent. But there has only been a 10 percent increase in wages. That’s a recipe for disaster!

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Not only that, but Brendon added the data about how Baby Boomers have blocked career progression and wage increases for younger generations by not retiring. All of this data shows one very important fact — it isn’t that millennials and Gen Z don’t want to work. It’s that working isn’t worth it anymore. Because even if we do everything our parents did, we won’t be able to afford even half the life they wanted for us.

One person even commented that they make more than their parents combined, who owned three houses, and they can’t even afford to buy one house. Others pointed out that the basic necessities of internet, cell phones, and a place to live are suddenly being equated with “luxuries.”

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Someone else added that not only does work not benefit us, but it also doesn’t seem to benefit society. Most of the high-paying jobs are for large corporations who take advantage of the Earth’s natural resources and lower-rung employees, all while benefiting one rich guy at the top who donates to campaigns we disagree with.

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Millennials have been working for at least a decade, if not longer. They would know by now if work was worth it, but if anything, many of our lives have gotten harder instead of easier.

Millennials had the technology to warn Gen Z, and they’re now learning the same thing and how to make money through other avenues, such as NFTs and influencer marketing, which may not seem like “work” to Boomers.

So yes, the Boomers are right, to a degree. We don’t want to work, because what’s the point?

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Woman’s Boomer Neighbor Has a Plane in Their Driveway

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It’s kind of hard to imagine Boomers struggling financially when they have things like three cars and one airplane parked in their driveway.

I think about money a lot. I’m definitely someone who has had to check their bank account before making any significant purchases. By the way in this scenario, significant can be anything from dinner to a concert ticket. There has rarely been a time in my life when I haven’t mostly lived paycheck-to-paycheck. Let’s just say, I know how to budget and cut a corner. My corners have been so cut I am living in a circle, baby!

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My situation has often been exacerbated by the fact that my mother, who is a well-meaning and supportive member of the Boomer generation, doesn’t always understand my financial struggles. Despite the fact that she is now retired and living on a fixed income, a luxury I doubt I will ever see, she often thinks I’ve spent money incorrectly. This is why I understand the frustration felt by one TikToker who doesn’t need advice from Boomers when some of them have planes parked in their driveways.

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Despite what you think, it’s not OK, Boomers.

Paige, who goes by @sheisapaigeturner on TikTok, is tired of explaining the ridiculous cost of living to a generation who kind of had a hand in making things bad. It seems as if any time Paige dares to express her concern over the astronomical price of childcare, some Boomer swoops in and demands she needs to “learn how to live within her means.”

It’s funny what kind of advice a person will give when they don’t have all the information. For example, if I wasn’t in possession of Paige’s entire financial portfolio I wouldn’t tell her that she’s spending her money incorrectly.

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On a personal note, I do see that my mother is usually out of the loop because she doesn’t live almost exclusively online like I do. If or when the television is on, it’s turned to HGTV or something on a streaming service she’s watching at the moment. She has Facebook and never logs on. All this to say, I kind of get when Boomers have no idea what is happening outside of their own world.

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Still, if you don’t know what’s happening then please don’t give unsolicited advice. And don’t filter someone else’s experiences through your own. This is the same kind of thinking that gets us the “I had to pay for college, so should you” crown when it comes to student loan forgiveness.

Paige then pulls from her own life to show just how out of touch Boomers are. Looking around her neighborhood, which she says is mostly members of that generation, Paige is able to deduce that they might not be on the same rung of the financial ladder.

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The house across the street from Paige has three cars in the driveway, which isn’t so bad until she explains only two people live there. Other than Jay Leno, who has an extra car? One of the cars is a collector’s item. When someone casually collects something I use for utilitarian purposes, that’s how I know they have money.

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That’s not the craziest part of this driveway. There is also an airplane in the driveway which begs the question, does Paige live across the street from John Travolta? Either that’s a big driveway or a very small plane.

Paige isn’t asking for a whole airplane at her house, she is merely on the hunt for affordable daycare. Gosh, maybe the neighbors can open up a facility in the plane. That would kill two birds with one stone.

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In what feels like some sort of prank, Paige then moves onto the house next to the plane place. They have four cars and a boat. I’m now thinking she must live by some sort of dealership.

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I’m going to say one thing in defense of these people. Unless I missed something, Paige is responding to other people who have told her to “stop being so materialistic.” A different group of Boomers have told Paige to curb her spending enthusiasm.

We have no idea who they are and how they reached such great heights, one of them literally. At the end of the day this is a systemic issue. Sadly we can’t control where we are or how we got here. We can only control, honestly nothing. Things are bleak!

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See the Singer’s Drastic Transformation

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SZA confirmed she underwent plastic surgery for a Brazilian butt lift, though her before and after photos show a noticeable difference in her face.

Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • Upon comparing photos of SZA from 2014 to now, you’ll notice a stark difference in her face.
  • SZA has not yet confirmed she underwent plastic surgery, on her face that is.
  • In 2023, however, SZA admitted to having a Brazilian butt lift.

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Singer SZA looked absolutely stunning during her performance at the Lil Baby & Friends I.O.U. Tour at the Crypto.com arena in August 2023. But if you were to compare the singer’s photos to her selfies from, say, 2014, then you’d notice a drastic difference in some of her facial features.

If you’re like most of us, you’re probably wondering how that transformation happened. Did the musician land a makeup team of contouring experts, or did she actually go under the knife? Here’s what we know.

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SZA before surgery wearing a red and white jersey.
Source: Getty Images

SZA looked quite different when she started her career.

The singer’s career beginnings date back to around 2011 when she first crossed paths with Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE). The president, Terrence “Punch” Henderson, signed her after hearing her material and she started to build a following after the release of her first two EPs. This was SZA when she was just beginning to generate buzz in 2013.

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At this point, she was already collaborating with several of her label-mates and in 2014, she released her EP, “Z.” By the following year, she started writing songs for other famous artists, including Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, and Rihanna. Here’s how she looked in 2015 (which is pretty much the same).

SZA attends the Roc Nation Grammy brunch on February 7, 2015 in Beverly Hills.
Source: Getty Images

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SZA’s features started to look different after her breakthrough.

In 2017, SZA released her debut album, “Ctrl,” which earned her a bunch of positive reviews and even more recognition. It debuted at No. 3 on the US Billboard 200 and was also certified platinum. It was even named the best album of 2017 by Time magazine. And around this time, the artist started to look quite different.

To be fair, though, SZA had lost some weight by then. This would definitely explain why her face appears to be smaller.

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In a 2017 interview, she mentioned her weight loss while defending Kendrick Lamar’s controversial lyrics about stretch marks. She said: “If you want to support women, you should support all shapes of women… I used to be 200 pounds, and I have stretch marks all over my body. I find more comfort and solace with Kendrick reinforcing that I’m beautiful.”

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 SZA attends the 2017 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater on June 25, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Source: Getty Images

The breakthrough artist looked gorgeous when she made her appearance at the 2017 BET Awards. However, it looks like she might have had some work done on her nose and chin… Or perhaps it was just brilliant contouring?

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Fans have pointed out the differences in SZA’s features.

Fans quickly took notice of SZA’s straighter nose and bigger chin, posting side-by-sides of the singer on social media to prove that she must’ve gone under the knife at least once. Even if it turns out that her nose was perfectly contoured, it’s kind of hard to explain how her chin changed…

A tweet showing SZA before and after possible surgery.
Source: Twitter/@chelseabazz

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Did SZA ever admit to having the plastic surgery?

The artist never spoke on these rumors directly, but fans do find it quite interesting that she has since deleted photos that outlets were using to prove she might have had surgery. For instance, in 2018, a photo of herself being honored by the City of Hope suggested that she definitely got a nose job. 

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She had captioned the pic: “Thank you so much for having me last night @cityofhope. Honored to have been recognized at an event for something as important as cancer research.” But after fans and outlets started using it to speculate about her surgery, the singer removed it. Hmm…

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SZA onstage during Dove's Launch of "Girl Collective"
Source: Getty Images

Though she’s kept her lips sealed about possibly having plastic surgery, she’s been quite open about her weight loss transformation. While she attended Dove’s Launch of Girl Collective in 2018, she shared that she was always comfortable in her own skin. 

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“It’s all about where it starts in your mind,” she said. “I think there are a lot of standards that people told me about that I didn’t see. I started, I was 190 pounds, I only wore my dad’s big t-shirts and socks on stage, no shoes, and didn’t even notice; never complained or tripped about my makeup.”

The singer also commented on how she’s evolved since then. 

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She shared: “It was just a matter of where I was in my mind, but I did also come out of that space where I was like, I feel like I want to change. I want to be different. I want to grow. I want to learn. I think it’s one thing to be comfortable, but then it’s one thing to not see your full potential and your full picture. The standard should really come [from] within.”

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As of now, it looks like we may never get confirmation on whether the singer actually got work done on her face, but we did learn in 2023 that she underwent surgery for a Brazilian butt lift.

During an interview with Elle, SZA admitted “I always wanted a really fat ass with less gym time.” She also noted that she “didn’t succumb to industry pressure.” Instead, the singer says she “succumbed to my own eyes in the mirror and [was] like, ‘No, I need some more ass.’”

It sounds like she’s happy and confident with the choices she’s made. And that’s all that matters! As long as she’s happy, we’re happy.

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