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This explanation is simply the latest excuse for filmmakers to keep doing what they’ve done for years.
Ridley Scott has finally responded to the backlash against his new movie Exodus: Gods and Kings, but his explanation is unlikely to stem the tide of criticism.
Exodus is a Biblical epic inspired by the exodus of the Hebrews, with Moses and Ramses II as the two central characters. The movie isn’t out until December, but it’s already faced criticism for casting so many white actors in Egyptian and Middle Eastern roles. The most damning example is how the heroes and royals are almost all played by white actors, while most of the black actors in the movie have minor roles as slaves, thieves, and assassins.
— Hodan (@HodanLioness) July 29, 2014
In an interview with Yahoo!, Scott explained why he decided on what is described as an “international” cast.
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.
This makes about as much sense as the explanation that Darren Aronofsky’s Noah had an all-white cast because it was “mythical.”
While the overall cast of Exodus is relatively “international,” Scott’s answer fails to acknowledge the unrealistic prominence of white European and American actors onscreen. The vast majority of main characters are played by white actors from the U.S. and U.K., with Christian Bale as Moses, Aaron Paul as Joshua, and Sigourney Weaver as Egyptian queen Tuya. Scott mentions discussing how to represent Egyptian culture, but the result was casting Joel Edgerton as an Egyptian pharaoh, and then covering him in fake tan to give him darker skin.
The idea of Egypt as a cultural melting pot is more or less acceptable, but Exodus illustrates this by casting pale-skinned people of Northern European descent as leaders and heroes, while dark-skinned people are criminals and background extras.
This “confluence of cultures” explanation is simply the latest excuse for filmmakers to keep doing what they’ve done for years, and cast white people in as many roles as possible. No matter what the setting, from ancient Egypt to modern-day New York to the imaginary world of Middle Earth, Hollywood will find a way.
Photo via exodusgodsandkings
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested.