Okay, someone hold my hat, I am about to come unglued here.
So yeah, by now you might have heard that Ridley Scott is making a movie called Exodus: Gods and Kings, which is based off the Bible story. Which takes place in Egypt. Allow me to illustrate, briefly, where Eqypt is located:
Okay? Now. Some people, including me, are kind of pissed off about some of the choices he’s made. Allow me to summarize why with a picture:
And here, have a bonus:
Just for reference, in reality land:
Now, if those don’t explain why a lot of us on the internet are breathing fire, just… tell you what. Go read this.
All right. We all caught up now?
So then Ridley Scott “explained” his casting decisions. Which he described as careful. (Hoo boy.) Like, to a certain extent I get, hey I like this actor and want to work with them and they are perfect for this role. Trust me, I now totally get that urge. And as many people have pointed out, if the casting seemed truly colorblind (Ken Watanabe as Nun! Benicio Del Toro as Rameses II! Viola Davis as Tuya!) I could go for it. I really could. But let’s look at the first ten actors listed on IMDB:
- Aaron Paul – white (American)
- Christian Bale – white (British)
- Joel Edgerton – white (Australian)
- Sigourney Weaver – white (American)
- Ben Kingsley – non-white (British)
- Indira Varma – non-white (British)
- John Turturro – white (American)
- Ben Mendelsohn – white (Australian)
- Maria Valverde – white [spanish (literally from Spain)]
- Emun Elliott – white (Scottish)
I would like to say, first, I feel gross and horrible after writing that list out, and awkward, and ugh. But I also feel it serves an important point, which is basically, out of the first ten people on the case list, there are two actors who could really be considered non-white (both Ben Kingsley and Indira Varma have an Indian parent) and Maria Valverde, who as an actual spanish person from Spain to my understanding should be considered white for the purposes of what we’re talking about. The point here is that the top listed actors are 80% white. If you go with the actors that are really being used to advertise the film, which would pretty much be the top five, you’re still at 80%.
In a movie. That takes place in Egypt.
Scott was not asked about the racial component of his casting decision, but he did answer a question about how he formed the international cast — which has been criticized for only featuring colored performers in small roles, such as servants, thieves and assassins.
“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,” Scott said. “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.”
Yeah, all different ethnicities. You know. American, British, and Australian.
If you want to actually see most of the different ethnicities Scott’s talking about, when you go to the IMDB page, click “see full cast list.” Most of them are hidden in there. Which indicates much, much smaller parts. But we kind of already knew that from the pictures, right?
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 did a little googling around because I was curious. And yeah, there’s controversy, most of it seeming to stem from much more openly racist times when people couldn’t handle the idea that someone who wasn’t snowy white made something white people think is awesome, like the pyramids. While at this point the science apparently boils down to:
There is no scientific reason to believe that the primary ancestors of the Egyptian population emerged and evolved outside of northeast Africa.
While that’s no doubt an oversimplification considering yes, the area is a major crossroads, using that as an excuse to justify the vast majority of your principle actors looking like they didn’t mind the gap on the Tube and fell through a rip in space and time to land in ancient Egypt is pretty fucking disingenuous.
(Actually, that’s a bad joke on my part, since apparently London is ~60% white and thus would not be well-represented by Ridley Scott’s casting.)
I imagine when you’re a director of Ridley Scott’s caliber, you can end up getting a lot of your principle actors by just calling them up on the phone and telling them you have a script you want them to read. So it’s really on him to take a step back and ask himself why most of the people he thinks are the best man or woman for the job are white rather than doing elaborate mental gymnastics to justify it later.
Because I really, really am not down with the implication that somehow, the best actor for the job is almost always white. Because there are amazing actors out there who aren’t white, and I’d bet you anything even more amazing actors who are just waiting for a chance to shine, if people would just fucking give them that chance.
And it’s not hard to do, by the way. All you do is write a casting notice like this:
[Gender], 20s to 40s, non-white…
Or if you don’t want to close the door all the way, fine:
[Gender], 20s to 40s, preferably non-white…
And trust me. You will get a response, from amazing actors, and I bet you anything one of them will be the right person for the job.