Lewis Beale on White Guys Still Getting the Best Bible Roles in Movies

(Photofest)
(Photofest)

Despite a larger presence of Middle Eastern actors in Hollywood, sword and sandal Biblical flicks too often “whitewash” their casts in a quest for box office payoff.

No one really knows what Moses looked like, but chances are if you’ve ever thought about the guy who parted the Red Sea, it’s pretty certain the actor who played Batman didn’t come to mind. Yet Christian ‘The Dark Knight’ Bale is the surprise choice to play Moses in director Ridley Scott’s latest film, ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings.’ And that casting decision, among others in the same film, has led to an internet uproar, with many people wondering about Hollywood’s reluctance to cast certain roles with ethnically or racially appropriate actors.

The casting in Scott’s film is “a distorted vision, and the inability to think beyond being safe,” says Jack Shaheen, author of “Reel Bad Arabs,” a book about Arab images in the media. “It’s been traditional, like casting Charlton Heston as Moses in ‘The Ten Commandments.’ It’s not that [Arab- or Jewish-American actors] are not there. But a studio executive would say we cast the best person for the role, and I doubt they even auditioned any Arab-American or Jewish-American actors for these parts.”

Shaheen is not just referring to Bale’s casting, but to the other key roles in the film:  Australian Joel Edgerton is playing Egyptian pharaoh Rameses, Sigourney Weaver – yep, Ripley herself – is Rameses’ mom, and everyone’s favorite meth lab assistant, Aaron Paul of “Breaking Bad,” was cast as Israelite leader Joshua. In addition, almost all of the minor roles in the film are cast with black actors, while all the Egyptian royals and gods are white.

“I think [the casting] really is as craven as ‘we want to make the most money we can, so we can package it in a way to make the most attractive product,’ because that’s what it is for them, product,” says film critic Marshall Fine of Hollywoodandfine.com. “If Ridley Scott and Christian Bale are box office draws, which I question, people will go to see this movie. I think Scott was looking for the biggest name he could get.”

Same as it ever was. Hollywood has a long-running history of putting non-ethnic actors in ethnic roles – the most laughable example being John Wayne as Genghis Khan in the 1956 film “The Conqueror.” But despite a more multi-ethnic society than in years past, and more ethnic actors in the mix than ever before, Hollywood seems to be trapped in a time warp when it comes to minority portrayals, particularly in the case of Arabs and Jews. Just recently, for example, Swedish-Jewish actor Jake Gyllenhaal was cast as the title character in “The Prince of Persia,” and FX’s new series “Tyrant,” set in a Middle Eastern country, stars British-American actor Adam Rayner. Add in the all too many Nordic-looking and non-Semitic portrayals of Jesus – who was, after all, a Middle Eastern Jew, and has been played by everyone from Christian Bale to Max von Sydow, Jeffrey Hunter and Willem Dafoe – and you have to wonder what some filmmakers are thinking.

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SOURCE: Lewis Beale
The Daily Beast

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