After a furious campaign by social media users, director Ridley Scott addressed his selection of mainly Caucasian actors to play ancient Egyptians and Israelites in upcoming bible-inspired mega-movie “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”
The Academy Award- and Golden Globe-nominated director stated that his decision was purely a financial one, claiming that the film depicting the story of Moses would have never been financed without big name actors such as the movie’s leading man, Christian Bale.
“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,” Scott said in an interview with Variety, an American entertainment-trade magazine. “I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”
The film, which was primarily filmed in Spain, was reportedly going to cost upwards of $200 million, but was completed on a budget of $140 million after a host of European tax rebates.
The film also includes Caucasian actors Joel Edgerton (as Ramses), Sigourney Weaver (as Tuya), John Turturro (as Seti I) and Aaron Paul (as Joshua). Non-white actors with significant roles include Ben Kingsley (as Nun), Maria Valverde (as Zipporah) and Israeli-Arab actress Hiam Abbass (as Bithiah).
According to the Huffington Post, actors of African descent were largely cast into the roles of slaves and servants, which provoked the ire of many who perceive the film as historically inaccurate.
— Nitha Noor Kamran (@NithaNoor) November 28, 2014
Others were offended by the sociological implications of the film and the negative stereotypes they believed it reinforced.
“Ridley Scott is one of those guys who’s apparently hellbent on historical accuracy but doesn’t care enough to cast a person of color as Moses or a goddamn African queen while simultaneously filling out the rest of the movie with black servants and thieves,” wrote one user in a profanity-laced piece for Medium, a blog-publishing platform. “But to make the main characters white and everyone else African is cinematic colonialism. It’s creating a piece of historical ‘art’ that carries on oppressive imagery that’s helped shackle entire countries and corners of the world.”
The English director had previously addressed his controversial casting choices in an interview with Yahoo! Australia in August: “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.”
Lead actor Bale, an Academy Award winner who has achieved critical acclaim in such films as “American Hustle,” “The Fighter” and several “Batman” movies, provoked a great deal of controversy with religious groups when he said that Moses was “likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life.”
Bale, who claimed to have read the Torah and Quran and conducted extensive research for his role, was equally critical of the Old Testament’s depiction of God, who he described as “equally very mercurial” in relation to Moses.