Oppeneheimer, slow your horses. Killers of the Flower Moon, don’t get too excited. Barbie…yeah, you’re fine by the pool. Maestro is here to ensure no one gets too comfortable in the early stages of the 2023 awards season. 


The teaser trailer for Bradley Cooper’s passion project biopic of composer Leonard Bernstein is here, and it is immediately evocative of classic Hollywood cinema, rendered in both black-and-white and a grainy color palette that recalls the Technicolor classics of the 60s and 70s. 

For a film about one of the only modern composers Americans can name off the top of our heads, the teaser is not much focused on Leonard Bernstein, Great Man (though the trailer’s soundtrack swells with orchestral strings). It’s all about “Lenny”, the man, and Felicia, his wife. 

Carey Mulligan stars as Felicia, and the teaser is focused on the pair—“two little ducks in a pond”—in their early and later years as a couple, with a few hints of the drama that shaped their lives in between. Bernstein was a gay man who participated in a “lavender marriage”, that is obviously going to be a major element of Maestro.


In just this brief preview, Maestro looks great. People will probably meme Bradley Cooper’s and Carey Mulligan’s old-timey voices to death, but Cooper is doing a reasonable facsimile of Bernstein’s rather distinctive voice. Mulligan sounds more stereotypically “classic Hollywood”, but Felicia Bernstein—an early TV star—did have that crisp diction common in the mid-century era among performers. She sounds not unlike Katherine Hepburn without the Yankee twang, and Mulligan lands in the neighborhood of that.


Where people will undoubtedly have Many Opinions, though, is on the casting of Cooper and Mulligan themselves. Joanna will have more on Cooper casting himself as Bernstein later, so let’s talk about Carey Mulligan starring as Felicia Bernstein—born Felicia Montealegre. Her mother was Costa Rican, her father a Jewish-American mining executive. Mulligan’s casting is not unlike Javier Bardem playing Cuban-American icon Desi Arnaz, she kinda looks like her subject but is not part of the culture to which Felicia belongs. 


People always say, “Cast the best person,” and Carey Mulligan is a fantastic actor, no doubt, but why is the assumption that “the best person” is white? There wasn’t a Latina actress that could play Felicia Bernstein? The comeback will be that Felicia was only half Latina, as if that makes it better…? I don’t know, I’m just kind of tired of this constantly happening. 

I’ve been writing about film for over ten years, we’ve been having this conversation the whole time, throughout the growing socio-cultural conversation around diversity and inclusion, and YET, nothing has really changed. We’re still talking about a white actress playing a Latina (particularly notable in this case because Carey Mulligan’s role in Drive was meant for a non-white actor but she lobbied for the role and ended up winning it). 


Again, Carey Mulligan is a great actor and Maestro looks great, too, but like. Just once can a Latine person get a shot at playing an icon from their culture in a flashy, award-bait film?