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#RumiWasntWhite asks filmmakers not to cast DiCaprio as Sufi poet

Another case of Hollywood whitewashing, another backlash.


Jaya Saxena


Posted on Jun 8, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 3:45 pm CDT

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, often known simply as Rumi, was a 13th-century Persian poet and scholar. He was born in the Kwaraziman dynasty, which encompassed parts of what is now Iran and Afghanistan. He was most certainly brown. Which, of course, means Hollywood wants to cast Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie based on his life. Ramadan Mubarak, I guess.

Screenwriter David Franzoni, most famous for Gladiator, told the Guardian he wanted DiCaprio to play Rumi, and Robert Downey Jr. to star as the mystic Shams of Tabriz—aka two white people playing two nonwhite people. If you couldn’t guess, many are unhappy about those choices and are posting about it under the hashtag #RumiWasntWhite.

Nearly every single time a white person is cast as a character of color, people call out the decision, which would make you think that producers would stop doing it. There was outrage when Scarlett Johansson was cast as Motoko Kusanagi, a Japanese character, in Ghost in the Shell. There was outrage when Tilda Swinton was cast as the Ancient One, who is Tibetan, in Doctor Strange. There was outrage over the casts of Exodus and Gods of Egypt being overwhelmingly white. There was outrage at Johnny Depp playing a Native American in Lone Ranger, Emma Stone playing a character of mixed heritage in Aloha, and Benedict Cumberbatch playing anyone with the name “Khan” in Star Trek: Into Darkness. We could go on, but you get the point.

Franzoni says the film, which has yet to be cast, will delve into the life of one of the most famous and popular poets who ever lived. “Rumi is hugely popular in the United States,” he says. “I think it gives him a face and a story.” Let’s just hope that face is the same color as Rumi’s was.

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*First Published: Jun 8, 2016, 11:47 am CDT