Whitewashing iconic characters is nothing new in Tinsel Town. Cleopatra was famously played by Elizabeth Taylor; David Carradine was cast as Kwai Chang Caine in the hit 70s show Kung Fu; and Charlton Heston was Moses in The Ten Commandants. But that was the past, and Hollywood has embraced diversity (and history) in its casting, right?
This year, a spate of historical films heads to theaters and despite how far we’ve come as a society, many of them continue to look very, very pale.
According to Ruby Hamad of Australia’s Daily Life, all of the lead actors in the upcoming big budget film Gods of Egypt are all white, despite Egypt being anything but.
Australian director Alex Proyas’ blockbuster Gods of Egypt started shooting in Sydney last Wednesday. The $150 million epic centres on the showdown between the evil god Set (Gerard Butler) and Horus (Danish Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldeu). It also stars “our own” Geoffrey Rush as the sun god Ra and Brenton Thwaites as a “common thief” who joins the mythical figures on their magical quest.
In other words, it’s a film set in Egypt with Egyptian characters, but (with the exceptions of Chadwick Boseman and Elodie Yung in minor roles) a white cast.
Gods of Egypt isn’t the only film that reimagines narratives about people of color with white casts. The recently released biblical epic Noah stars Russell Crowe and Emma Watson, and Batman’s Christian Bale is slated to play Moses in Exodus later this year. Add to that the time that Angelina Jolie donned a curly wig and darkened her skin to play Daniel Pearl’s biracial wife Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart; Ben Affleck portrayed Mexican CIA operative Tony Mendez in Argo; Jake Gyllenhaal copped a spray-tan to star in Prince of Persia; and Jennifer Lawrence was cast in the lead of the Hunger Games despite her character being described in the book as being a non-white woman with dark, olive skin and it’s easy to see how Gods of Egypt producers would find it perfectly normal to cast White folks as Egyptian deities.
Meanwhile, this is how Egyptians depicted themselves in 1333 BCE (via History.com)
While some White folks freak out any time a person of color is cast in a “traditionally White” role (see the uproar around Idris Elba in Thor, Amandla Stenberg in the Hunger Games, Michael B. Jordan in the Fantastic Four reboot; and Quvenzhane Wallis as Annie), people of color are supposed to be happy to see themselves cast in the secondary roles in their own stories, because, white supremacy.
Or as Waleed Aly of The Sydney Morning Herald put it:
“Only white people have the chance to be neutral because in our society only white is deemed normal; only whiteness is invisible. Every other race is marked by its difference, by its conspicuousness – by its non-whiteness.”
Read Ruby Hamad’s entire takedown of the history of whitewashing in Hollywood on Daily Life.
h/t Alexander Hardy of the Colored Boy.