‘Gods of Egypt’ Director and Studio Apologize for White-Washed Casting
Gods of Egypt is a big budget project that sort of came out of left field, but the negative feelings inspired by its trailer and promotional materials are quite familiar. Set in Egypt, the new film from director Alex Proyas features a mostly white cast, recalling Ridley Scott’s unfortunate casting choices for Exodus: Gods and Kings. But unlike Scott, Proyas and Lionsgate are expressing remorse for the decision by issuing public apologies.
Just last year, Ridley Scott upset many with his largely white cast for Exodus: Gods and Kings, a film about the uprising led by Moses against the Pharaoh Ramses in ancient Egypt. Proyas’ film is not as self-serious, as evidenced by the totally insane and goofy trailer for the big budget fantasy-action flick, but that’s not the only difference between the two films.
There have been a lot of negative reactions to the white cast of Gods of Egypt, which includes Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler, Geoffrey Rush and Brenton Thwaites, with only Elodie Yung and Chadwick Boseman offering any real diversity in the cast.
In response, Alex Proyas released an apology to Variety:
The process of casting a movie has many complicated variables, but it is clear that our casting choices should have been more diverse. I sincerely apologize to those who are offended by the decisions we made.
Lionsgate also offered a formal apology, insisting that they “can and will continue to do better”:
We recognize that it is our responsibility to help ensure that casting decisions reflect the diversity and culture of the time periods portrayed. In this instance we failed to live up to our own standards of sensitivity and diversity, for which we sincerely apologize. Lionsgate is deeply committed to making films that reflect the diversity of our audiences. We have, can and will continue to do better.
The apologies don’t fix what’s already been done, but it’s certainly a step up from Ridley Scott’s response when confronted by the lack of diversity in Exodus, which featured actors like Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton and Ben Kingsley. Scott defended his casting choices by pointing to the difficulties directors face in getting funding for ambitious, big-budget projects if they try to cast diverse actors:
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.
The question should come up though, and it’s baffling that studios and directors would attempt to make a film set in Egypt without even considering — much less trying — to hire actors of the same or relative ethnic background. When crafting a narrative specific to a culture or race, it’s absolutely absurd to go with the default casting of white men. This sounds like common sense thinking, but apparently it’s still too hard to grasp.
There have been several unfortunate instances of white actors cast in ethnic roles over the decades, from Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Cleopatra, to Fisher Stevens in Short Circuit 2 — an example smartly addressed in Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series Master of None. More recent examples: Ben Affleck played a hispanic character in Argo, Angelina Jolie darkened her skin to play journalist Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart, Emma Stone played an Asian woman in Aloha and Johnny Depp played the Native American Tonto in The Lone Ranger.
An apology doesn’t magically fix anything, but acknowledging the problem is a positive step towards awareness and change. Hopefully.