'Gods of Egypt' renews concern about inaccurate film casting

LOS ANGELES -- An unusual thing happened in Hollywood on a recent weekend: Director Alex Proyas and Lionsgate apologized for ethnically inaccurate casting in "Gods of Egypt" - a full three months before the movie is set to hit theatres.

See Full Article

The fantasy epic stars Scottish actor Gerard Butler and Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as mythological Egyptian gods, and a recently released trailer renewed concern about Hollywood's long tradition of casting against race.

In the jointly issued statements responding to social media criticism, Proyas acknowledged that the choices should have been more diverse and Lionsgate pledged to do better in the future.

While some praised the preemptive mea culpa, including "Selma" director Ava DuVernay and the Casting Society of America, others were more skeptical, concluding that it's simply meant to shut down any further backlash. It's also a reminder of how it often takes Hollywood years to make a movie, causing some films to lag behind shifting social attitudes when they're finally released.

"The apology is an attempt to have it both ways," said professor Todd Boyd, chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture at the University of Southern California. "They want the cast that they selected and they don't want people to hold it against them that it's a white cast."

Authenticity in casting has become a major discussion point in recent years, thanks in part to the amplifying effect of the Internet. Petitions spring up as soon as questionable castings are announced. Such was the case with Joe Wright's "Pan," when Rooney Mara was announced as the choice to play the Native American princess Tiger Lily in March of 2014.

But the topic doesn't end with angry tweets and online petitions. In his Netflix show "Master of None," Indian-American comedian Aziz Ansari recently called out the whitewashing of Indian roles in Hollywood films like "The Social Network" and "Short Circuit."

While the practice didn't go unnoticed before, now it's becoming more of a liability.

"There was a time when studios thought audiences could handle Mickey Rooney playing I. Y. Yunioshi in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's," said Adam Moore, SAG-AFTRA's National Director of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity. .' "That's not happening today. No one is going to think that's OK. Things have changed."

But there's also an inherent tension between art and authenticity.

"From a performer's perspective, it is not supposed to matter what ethnicity, race, sexual orientation or age you are, it's what you can play. That's what our federal and state laws say," added Moore. "You can't ask someone when you're casting 'Memoirs of a Geisha' if they're Japanese."

Casting is a complex art and each production is different in terms of objectives, who makes the calls, and why specific decisions are made.

Still, public backlash to castings that are seen as inauthentic are almost inevitable now. When the issue has come up over the past few years, filmmakers and actors have either stayed silent, cited financial realities ("Exodus: Gods and Kings"), artistic vision ("Pan") or apologized after the fact ("Aloha").

"Exodus: Gods and King" was a particular tipping point in the conversation.

Director Ridley Scott brushed off condemnations at the time, blaming the model of financing Hollywood movies for his choices. He told trade publication Variety that he would not be able to get the film financed by casting "Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such."

So the filmmakers behind "Gods of Egypt" addressed the whitewashing on their own terms - just as the marketing campaign was kicking off.

Lionsgate was in a tricky spot with "Gods of Egypt." The "Exodus" controversy seems ages old to the public, but "Gods of Egypt" had its main cast set over a year before "Exodus" hit theatres last December and wrapped shooting long before Scott's choices were being publicly lambasted.

"What I think that people are going to start to see is it's going to become a bad decision, business-wise. It's going to be a gamble to do things like this," said Moore.

"Exodus: Gods and Kings" was critically panned and flopped at the domestic box office, earning only $65 million on a $140 million budget. (It earned $268.2 million worldwide).

Casting directors contacted by The Associated Press did not want to comment for this story but the Casting Society of America issued a statement applauding Proyas and Lionsgate for recognizing that authenticity in casting is critical, and reiterating that its members are committed to diversity.

Perhaps Hollywood's lengthy production pipeline just needs time to catch up with the public's demand for casting authenticity. In the meantime, preemptive apologizing seems to be the preferred way to get in front of the issue.

David Poland, editor in chief of MovieCityNews.com, posits that the "pre-apology" is the new trend in Hollywood political correctness.

"It started with that Hollywood Reporter mea culpa before publishing an all-white cover of actresses," said Poland, referring to a recent round up of potential Oscar nominees published in the industry trade magazine. "Somehow, they got positive feedback by getting out ahead of themselves on it and throwing up their hands."

Boyd finds apologies like these to be empty rhetoric for the sake of political correctness.

"At some point, people have to take responsibility, but nobody in Hollywood is going to do that. Ultimately they don't really feel as though that's their fault and perhaps their responsibility. They just don't want to be labeled as racially insensitive. It's the perception that they're concerned about."

It remains to be seen whether the movie industry will ever completely eliminate its historic practice of ethnically inaccurate casting. What is virtually certain, however, is when there are lapses, the excuses and apologies will be out there long before the movie hits the multiplex.


Latest Entertainment News

  • Weinstein Co.'s bankruptcy could bring new wave of accusers

    Entertainment CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- Is #MeToo part two on the way? With its bankruptcy, the Weinstein Co. has tossed out the non-disclosure agreements that officials say its co-founder and former CEO Harvey Weinstein wielded as a weapon in his sexual predation, bringing with it the possibility of a whole new wave of victims coming forward. Source
  • The Crown producers apologize after Claire Foy, Matt Smith pay disparity uproar

    Entertainment CBC News
    Producers of the Netflix drama The Crown apologized Tuesday to actors Claire Foy and Matt Smith over the revelation that Foy was paid less than her male co-star. A producer disclosed last week that Foy — who starred in the first two seasons as Queen Elizabeth II — was paid less than Smith — who played Prince Philip — because Smith was better known. Source
  • 'This is the year of the female' filmmaker says as Hot Docs achieves gender parity

    Entertainment CTV News
    TORONTO -- The topic of female empowerment that's been dominating headlines with the .MeToo movement is also being heavily reflected at this year's Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. In announcing the lineup for the 25th edition of the Toronto festival on Tuesday, organizers said they've achieved gender parity for the first time, with 50 per cent of the films coming from female directors and many projects with themes relating to women rising up. Source
  • 'It's not all loss. It's not all disintegration:' Frederica von Stade sings of Alzheimer's in new opera

    Entertainment CBC News
    Frederica von Stade is taking on another challenging late-career role, singing in the world premiere of an opera about two women afflicted by Alzheimer's disease. Opera Philadelphia announced Tuesday it will present Sky on Swings, composed by Lembit Beecher with a libretto by Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch, to open its 2018-19 season on Sept. Source
  • Subway delays make Cynthia Nixon late to first political event

    Entertainment CTV News
    New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon says one of the reasons she's running in the Democratic primary against Gov. Andrew Cuomo is because of the poor condition of New York City's subway system. She experienced that firsthand on Tuesday as she was on her way to her first official campaign event in Brooklyn after announcing her candidacy the day before. Source
  • Cynthia Nixon takes aim at Cuomo in first campaign event

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Newly announced New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon on Tuesday criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo, her Democratic primary opponent, for favouring corporations and the rich over average New Yorkers. The liberal activist and "Sex and the City" actress took aim at Cuomo in her first official campaign appearance, telling the audience at the Bethesda Healing Center in Brooklyn that she had just made it to the event "in the nick of time" because of subway delays that she blamed on…
  • 'Black Panther' is most tweeted about movie ever: Twitter

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK - The pop culture sensation "Black Panther" has set another record: most tweeted about movie ever. Twitter said Tuesday that Ryan Coogler's box-office smash has been tweeted about more than 35 million times. Source
  • 'The Crown' producers say sorry to stars after pay row

    Entertainment CTV News
    LONDON - Producers of the Netflix drama "The Crown" have apologized to actors Claire Foy and Matt Smith over the revelation that Foy was paid less than her male co-star. A producer disclosed last week that Foy, who starred as Queen Elizabeth II, was paid less than Smith, who played Prince Philip. Source
  • Virtue, Moir tell Ellen DeGeneres they're 'definitely' not a couple

    Entertainment CBC News
    Not even Ellen DeGeneres could get Canadian ice dance sensations Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to say they are more than friends. Virtue and Moir appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show Tuesday, and the popular host asked them point-blank what a lot of skating fans have been wondering — "Are you a couple?" Source
  • 'As outstanding and outspoken as ever:' Hot Docs unveils 25th anniversary lineup

    Entertainment CBC News
    Hot Docs will showcase "formidable filmmakers" — with 50 per cent of the program comprising work by female filmmakers — as the international documentary festival celebrates its 25th anniversary this spring. Organizers unveiled on Tuesday the complete list of films slated for its upcoming edition, which takes place April 26 to May 6 in Toronto. Source