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What it means to be a Jewish film-goer

Backlash+online+resulted+from+images+like+these+from+the+Maestro+trailer+%28Photo+from+Netflix+trailers%29
Backlash online resulted from images like these from the Maestro trailer (Photo from Netflix trailers)

Aaron Marnstein had been going to the movies for years and years, and never really had a problem with feeling under-represented in the films he watched. Every time Marnstein, a Jewish man, sat in front of the screen, it was a way for him to escape the stressors of day-to-day life and not a place where he ever felt affected by an overwhelming absence of representation of his culture. However, accurate representation has been an extremely hot (and often touchy) subject as of recent years, and many people in the film community feel like movies have only recently begun to course correct a history of inaccurate and inauthentic portrayals.

“As a Jewish person, I don’t feel like the lack of Jewish characters in TV and media has affected me as a lack of representation,” Marnstein said.

Movies, at their best, can challenge us to look at ourselves and our society and reconsider how we see each other. For a long time, I understood that about movies without ever having to have those thoughts in my daily life. Recently, however, I’ve had to reconsider how I approach these topics in my own life recently, all because of one movie.

Netflix recently released their trailer for the upcoming film, Maestro, a biopic about legendary composer Leonard Bernstein, and it caused a large controversy online because of two things. Number one, the film is about a Jewish man, and in the trailer, Bradley Cooper is playing him with a large prosthetic nose on his face. Number two, Bradley Cooper is not Jewish in real life.

Backlash online resulted from images like these from the Maestro trailer (Photo from Netflix trailers)

I wanted to cover this story, and get the opinion of a Jewish staff member. Once I contacted Marnstein, he watched the trailer and did some research. When I started asking him questions, however, he asked me a question I had neglected to consider when researching the incident: “Are you Jewish?”

Though it was not one I had thought of before contacting him, it was one I thought more and more about once the interview was over. I am not Jewish, and I decided to try harder to consider other viewpoints when thinking about and discussing topics like representation in films. 

“It’s a really rough question, and you are going to get people on both sides of the spectrum,” Marnstein said. “And a lot of that probably comes from not the actual movie, but their own personal baggage, their own personal experiences.”

I am someone who believes in art being created at the best level it can be, and although it is a very thin line to walk, I think that, in instances like Maestro, it’s clear when a choice is being made in the name of realism and when it isn’t. Movie producers have to pick the best person for the job, and in this movie, I don’t see how either the casting choice or the prosthetic are being done with malicious intent; but I also recognize that I’m not able to see the whole picture, or completely understand why this may be offensive to another person. 

Marnstein didn’t find this trailer offensive when he watched it, and believes in a movie providing an accurate portrayal, but also realized that his view was only limited to his own experiences. He also personally identifies with many different things and sees being Jewish as only one piece of a large tapestry of parts of himself.

“You are not just one thing; you are a whole bunch of things,” he said. “I am a male, I am cisgendered, I’m Jewish, I’m a parent, I’m a father, I’m a brother, a son-I have a lot of different things.”

At the end of the day, our own experiences impact how we see the world, and if we see ourselves in what we consume. For some people, finding accurate, positive ion in movies is a huge struggle. This may give reason as to why you would be adverse to an actor playing a role in a movie that they can’t completely understand in an authentic way, or a costume or makeup piece that, unintentionally or not, harkens back to racist propaganda pieces.

For others, these things are not a problem, and representation in movies can be found through many different lenses, and in many places. There are tons of people who fall somewhere in the middle of these viewpoints. For me, it was never something I considered much for myself until now. It’s a journey that we’re all on for the rest of our lives; finding ourselves in the things we do, as well as each other. 

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About the Contributor
Dylan Maye, Entertainment Reporter
My name is Dylan Maye! I’m a sophomore, and I’ve been on the Knightmedia staff for 1 year. I am on the Prospect speech team, and am also involved in theater. Outside of school, I like to watch movies, read, and spend time with my family.

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