Every actor who talks in the trailer for Gods of Egypt, a fantasy epic from Lionsgate about, as you might expect, gods and Egypt, is white.
The trailer, released Tuesday, features the film’s stars: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) as Horus, Gerard Butler (300, a rash of mediocre rom-coms) as Set, Geoffrey Rush (all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) as Ra, Brenton Thwaites (had to IMDB this one, but he was in Maleficent) as Bek. There is one non-white actor in the main cast: Chadwick Boseman (James Brown in Get on Up and Jackie Robinson in 42) plays Thoth. No one, alas, is of Middle Eastern descent.
Audiences are already not pleased; the comments on both the official Facebook and YouTube pages for the trailer are filled with lines like “And yet again Hollywood is trying to white wash history. Ancient Egyptians were not white! “ and “I didn’t know Egyptians were so Caucasian” and also “I know at some point even white people have to think ‘ok this is too much.’’”
Perhaps Lionsgate should have seen this coming, considering the negative response to the Gods of Egypt posters, which were released last Thursday.
— vimto mami (@lunarnomad) November 12, 2015
— Carrie @RSC – AA E6 (@mermaidshells) November 12, 2015
— Matthew A. Cherry (@MatthewACherry) November 12, 2015
In fact, audiences have been expressing disgust at the casting of this movie for months, long before all the publicity materials came out.
— Assaf Cohen (@a55afcohen) June 5, 2015
If this particular act of whitewashing sounds familiar to you, it is probably because you remember two very recent incidents that were almost identical in nature. Ridley Scott’s 2014 attempt at an epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, which starred Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Egyptian pharaoh Ramses. Edgerton wore bronze face makeup and lots of eyeliner so that he, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Australian man, could “appear more ethnic.”
Critics quickly accused the film of “cinematic colonialism” (and also of not being very good, but that’s a matter for another day). Cries for a boycott were so loud that those involved in the movie had to respond. Edgerton took a sort-of diplomatic stance — “I do understand and empathize with that position” — but Scott was unmoved.
“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,” he told Variety. “I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”
— Thelonious Legend (@TheLegendBooks) November 13, 2015
Darren Aronofsky’s Noah came out earlier that same year. It, too, boasted an all-white lead ensemble — Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson — and it, too, inspired a wave of criticism for its colorless cast. The excuse that time? According to screenwriter Ari Handel:
From the beginning, we were concerned about casting, the issue of race. What we realized is that this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people. Either you end up with a Bennetton ad or the crew of the Starship Enterprise. 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.”
While Noah and Exodus at least have star power on their side — Crowe, Watson, and Bale are all big names who’ve pulled in big blockbuster money before — Gods of Egypt is more than a little lacking in the wattage department. None of those stars is so famous you could drop their name and watch the money roll in. We’re talking about “the hot guy from Game of Thrones — no, not him, the other hot guy, the incest guy” and “the kid from that Sleeping Beauty reboot.”
Director Alex Proyas has yet to comment on his casting choices.