Saturday, August 9, 2014

Hollywood doesn't want to give people of color starring roles, #BoycottExodusMovie

Ridley Scott's latest film, Exodus: Gods and Kings, a Biblical story set in ancient Egypt, is the latest Hollywood film to be accused of "whitewashing." The royal and high class Egyptian characters are played by white actors such as Christian Bale and Sigourney Weaver, and the slaves and lower class characters are all played by black actors. If this were a story about slavery in the United States, this would make sense. However, in Egypt, no one was white so the choice of casting has been met with an understandable firestorm of criticism. Many on Twitter have used the hashtag #BoycottExodusMovie, and I learned of the story from a discussion of a Huffington Post article that was on my friend's Facebook timeline.

Seeing this type of casting again and again bothers me, and although I am resigned to the fact that Hollywood has a right to tell whatever stories it wants to tell, I also feel that all of us people of color have the duty to not support these filmmakers.
Photo courtesy of HuffPo. For the complete story, click here.
Hollywood movies cost millions of dollars, and they employ professionals to make decisions that affect the representation found on screen. Besides Exodus, another questionable big  movie casting choice was the casting of white actress Rooney Mara (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as the Native American Tiger Lily in Peter Pan. The part of Tiger Lily could have easily gone to an up-and-coming Native American child star, but instead they chose to cast a white woman.  In the same article, entertainment news source Variety said that "The world being created is multi-racial/international..." and that the film would star Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, and Rooney Mara.

To tout a movie as being multi-racial and then listing three white actors as its stars is ridiculous, and
I find it even harder to believe that the Exodus movie could not find any actors of color to play the Egyptian royalty. This casting may have been based on the bankability of the white stars. However the whole process is a Catch-22. If you only cast white people in big parts, how will one ever find a minority star?

To say there are not any great minority actors is complete bullshit. There are many who are relegated to small parts or theater, while some white actors with connections are given starring roles. I won't name names but I often roll my eyes at how many bad white actors are repeatedly given work while quality minority actors aren't even given a chance. A recent study published by USC found that white actors make up nearly 75% of the speaking characters in movies, and my own study of leading actors on broadcast comedies provided equally abysmal diversity numbers.

Noah's movie poster (courtest of Godawa)
I'm actually going to be so bold and say that white casting is a conscience decision that involves more than just money or lack of finding the right actors . Old school filmmakers don't want to see casts of color, and no one has held them accountable for this racism. If this accusation sounds crazy, look at the recent film, Noah, another story based on the Bible. This film received heat because it chose to create a non-diverse world when it had a setting that would've allowed a multi-ethnic cast. When asked about this lack of diversity, its writer Ari Handel cemented the idea that Hollywood just doesn't want to see ethnic faces:

“Either you end up with a Bennetton ad or the crew of the Starship Enterprise," Handel said. "You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it, or you just say, ‘Let’s make that not a factor, because we’re trying to deal with everyman.’

Let's digest for a moment what this guy said. Regardless of the offensive shade that he threw towards Bennetton and the Starship Enterprise, he acknowledged that the film deliberately chose to go non-diverse to make the issue "not a factor." In his and his colleague's eyes, he felt that white people represented "everyman" and that casting all white was the best choice to reach his audience. Although I doubt the Exodus filmmakers would put words like that on the record, I think it's important to let audiences know that this is the mentality of those making these kinds of whitewashed movies. Whitewashing in movies is a filmmakers choice, and if this choice does not agree with you, then let the filmmakers know by not watching their films.

1 comment:

  1. Noah co-stars Jennifer Connelly, whose mother was Jewish, and Logan Lerman, who is 100% Jewish. Surely they can play Old Testament characters.