Ridley Scott to ‘Exodus’ Cast Critics: “Get a Life”
The controversy over the mostly white casting of Ridley Scott’s new Biblical epic ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ continues to draw controversy, mostly because Scott himself continues to say controversial things. Last month, when asked by Variety why he chose to fill the parts of Middle-Eastern characters with the likes of white men like Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, Scott explained that he couldn’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.”
The “Mohammad so-and-so” part of his comments were met particularly (and rightfully) harshly, but Scott doesn’t seem particularly sorry about his words or his creative choices. When asked again about his cast by the Associated Press this week, Scott doubled down. His “message” to anyone thinking of boycotting the movie? “I say, ‘Get a life.’” Well, I guess that puts the whole matter to rest (or probably makes things worse).
Scott once again reiterated that his was primarily a financial decision; he tried to get the “best possible cast ... on a budget of this scale” (somewhere in the $150 million neighborhood). For his part, Bale had a less confrontational and more thoughtful take on the issue. Though he supported Scott and praised their “true partnership,” and acknowledged the tough monetary realities of making something like ‘Exodus,’ he also offered some more nuanced comments about the movie’s cast:
“I don’t think fingers should be pointed, but we should all look at ourselves and say, ‘Are we supporting wonderful actors in films by North African and Middle Eastern filmmakers and actors?’ Because there are some fantastic actors out there ... If people start supporting those films more and more, then financiers in the market will follow.”
That’s a wise sentiment, although it begs the question: If big Hollywood directors refuse to cast North African and Middle Eastern actors, and if financiers won’t take risks on the region’s filmmakers, how can audiences support them? It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg argument, but it can’t just be the viewers’ responsibility here. Viewers can’t buy tickets to movies that don’t exist.
I wasn’t a fan of ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings,’ and the movie’s problems run a lot deeper than the cast’s skin color. In fact, as I wrote in my review, the cast can almost be defended as part of Scott’s attempt to make a “grim and gritty reboot” of ‘The Ten Commandments,’ which suffered from similarly myopic casting issues. Having Bale as Moses and Edgerton as Pharaoh enhances the feeling that Scott’s making and updated version of a very old-fashioned movie.
Of course, you could argue that those old-fashioned movies were already racially insensitive, and rehashing their stereotypes only propagates them further, and you might have a point. But at least that is a creative choice; if that was Scott’s argument, he would at least be fighting for his artistic decisions, not financial ones. The way this feels so coldly calculated leaves a particularly bad taste in one’s mouth.