Some have called for a boycott, but the Academy Award-nominated director has kept fairly quiet on the criticism — until a recent interview with Variety.
There's a lot to unpack, but it's worth noting that Scott's position is not entirely without merit — filmmakers, even those working with major studios, have an incredibly difficult time Why is the hookup of exodus important movies.
As the industry becomes more reliant on revenue from foreign countries, where top stars are still a critical draw, you need big names on the marquee to get a green light.
However, that doesn't excuse films from making the same irresponsible casting decisions over and over. While movies are still an art form, filmmakers are increasingly held accountable for working within a system that egregiously ignores minorities.
Half of all contemporary films still fail the Bechdel testdespite its growing influence as a measure of gender bias. Ironically, studies show that films with a more diverse cast earn more revenue. Sure, Exodus is just a movie — but its message surfaces social issues that do more harm than good.
As someone who has seen this film, I can attest to its aggravatingly backward casting. Not only is the main cast aggressively whitewashed, but the decision to degrade actors with dark skin was an utter distraction.
Scott's need to get a movie star may become the film's own Achilles heel. An expensive film has to recoup its budget and race to the top of the box office. Gods and Kings is an expensive movie.
However, that is where all forgiveness of Scott's racist Biblical epic ends. The uproar against this film has been dragging on for months on end, initially because of the film's cast list.
The movie stars carrying this film — Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton if he can be called a "star" yetSigourney Weaver and Aaron Paul — are all white, as are most of the male supporting cast with speaking roles save for Ben Kingsley, who is half-Indian. In contrast, aside from Weaver, most of the main actresses with speaking roles — Hiam Abbass, Maria Valverde, Golshifteh Farahani and Indira Varma, mainly — are non-white, which might be the film's only saving grace in terms of racial casting.
But let's go back to Scott's Variety quote.
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His reasoning deliberately places the blame elsewhere, as though it's completely out of his hands. In the grand scheme of things, what he's doing in this film is not different from many other Hollywood films — one need only go back as far as Noah to find a jarringly all-white cast in a biblical epic. Exodus carries on the grand tradition of white actors playing Other Ancient Egyptian people.
However, tradition does not make this film's actions inexcusable. Now, this may be the point where you ask: But isn't the exact skin color of the ancient Egyptians up for debate anyway?
Thanks to the Nile River, ancient Egypt was a blend of many outside cultures. However, as Penn State University anthropology professor Nina Jablonski pointed outit is safe to surmise that they likely had tan skin, as depicted in ancient artwork of Egyptian royalty.
Jablonski also wrote in her book Living Color: If you couldn't tell from my author photo, I'm a dark-skinned black woman.
And if you couldn't tell from my name, I'm of East African descent. When I watched Exodus: Gods and Kings in an early press screening, I saw things a little differently than the year-old white men Scott's film is no doubt trying to reach. When the initial casting for the film ignited uproar, it was because dark-skinned actors were cast as servants, soldiers, assassins — you get the idea.
Going into this film, I remained open-minded — perhaps Scott had been unfairly vilified in the film's early reports. Instead, I was slapped in the face with racist imagery. Within the first few minutes of the film, two black actors are shown, but they're merely servants to the high priestess played by Varma.
The next few times you see dark-skinned people, it's essentially the same — they're the ever-present bodyguards of Ramses, the wicked assassin sent to kill Moses.