Posted on Thursday, August 28th, 2014 by Angie Han
Normally, Ridley Scott tapping Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton for the leads of his next movie would be cause for excitement. But in the case of Exodus: Gods and Kings, Scott’s choices have raised some eyebrows. You see, Exodus is a film set in ancient Egypt, about ancient Egyptians, specifically Moses and Ramses.
More than a few people have pointed out the oddness of casting Caucasian people to play Africans — especially since the few black actors he did cast appear to be playing lower-class and criminal elements. Now Scott has finally responded to the Exodus casting controversy. Read his explanation after the jump.
Scott addressed the Exodus casting controversy in a chat with Yahoo, and explained how “carefully” he’d cast the film.
Egypt was – as it is now – a confluence of cultures, as a result of being a crossroads geographically between Africa, the Middle East and Europe. We cast major actors from different ethnicities to reflect this diversity of culture, from Iranians to Spaniards to Arabs. There are many different theories about the ethnicity of the Egyptian people, and we had a lot of discussions about how to best represent the culture.
I’m sure there are “many different theories about the ethnicity of Egyptian people.” (Here are some.) I’ll bet few of the credible ones point to them looking like Christian Bale. Apparently Scott’s idea of “diversity” is casting Australian, American, and British white people.
What makes Scott’s explanation especially unsatisfying is that it comes right after he talks about how important it was to portray Moses and Ramses as “real” people. He describes Moses as someone who “has to be played definitively as a very real person,” and emphasizes that Exodus is “not a fantasy” but “a real thing.” Apparently, his concern with keeping things “real” didn’t extend to racially appropriate casting.
Of the seven cast members deemed central enough to be worth listing on Exodus’s Facebook About page, five are white. The other two, Ben Kingsley and Indira Varma, are half-white. Meanwhile, the black actors have roles like “Egyptian thief,” “Egyptian lower class civilian,” “assassin,” “Moses’ general,” and “Rhamses’ royal servant.” Those aren’t character descriptions. That’s how they’re listed on IMDb.
Or, to put it more succinctly:
Hollywood is great at coming up with excuses for not casting people of color. Filmmakers and studios argue that non-white faces don’t sell overseas, that they’re too distracting, that they’re tough for white audiences to relate to, that they’re “historically inaccurate” (for period pieces) or “unfaithful to the source material” (for adaptions of fictional properties).
So it’s disappointing, if not terribly surprising, that when a major filmmaker finally gets his hands on a project that demands non-white stars, he goes ahead casts white stars anyway. The roles of Moses and Ramses were famously played by Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston in 1956′s The Ten Commandments. It’d be nice to think we’ve progressed past that kind of whitewashed casting now, but apparently it’s just not true.
Anyway, Exodus: Gods and Kings opens December 12.