by Robert Merriam
Ridley Scott’s new film, Exodus: Gods and Kings, is a retelling of the story from the Old Testament; it stars Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton as Moses and Rameses.
Recently, the film has come under fire due to the race of its stars. For anyone who is unaware, both Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton are white; it is also likely that Moses and Rameses were not. When Scott was asked about his choice of casting European, American and Australian actors in heavy makeup as ancient Egyptians and Hebrews, he responded:
“I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such, I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”
Yikes. Since then the #BoycottExodusMovie has appeared and there has been plenty of debate. Whether or not the boycott will be a success is yet to be seen, but it does raise a lot of questions. If Scott is telling the truth, and he really doesn’t think he could have got funding without white actors, then the problem must be systemic...which is a scary thought. Would Hollywood really not fund a blockbuster with a full cast of black actors, even with Ridley Scott as a director? And, if so, why? Are they scared the public wouldn’t go to see the film? Is it rampant nepotism, traditionalism or simple racism?
It is possible that the casting has more to do with habit than anything else. Biblical characters have been portrayed as white for as long as biblical films have been made: The Ten Commandments, The Passion of The Christ and last year’s Noah all had white actors playing the lead. Perhaps there is a fear that some western Christian audiences might be turned off by the depiction of a prophet as non-white.
I’m not sure where I stand on the matter. Although I don’t think the people involved in the production of Exodus are racist, I do think it shows a problem throughout the film industry.Trailers for the new Star Wars and Annie films were both greeted with floods of undeniably racist comments due to their star’s ethnicity, showing that this problem also lies with the audience.