Ridley Scott has been accused of white-washing history and the Bible with his latest film Exodus: Gods and Kings. All of Gods and Kings top level cast is white (Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver) while the background and minor supporting characters which are mostly slave and servant parts, are being played by a somewhat racially diverse, but mostly black cast.
A social media campaign #BoycottExodusMovie is calling for people to boycott the film upon its release due to this.
In an interview writer David Dennis notes "Not only are all the main characters white, but the servants, thieves and assassins are played by Africans. To make the main characters white and everyone else African is cinematic colonialism."
Australian actor, Joel Edgerton, who plays Pharaoh in the movie, in an interview with SBS, responded "I got asked to do a job and it would have been very hard to say no to that job. But I do say that I am sensitive to it and I do, I do understand and empathize with that position."
After remaining mute for months on the controversy, Ridley Scott quietly addressed the issue in an interview with Yahoo Movies.
Q: You said you cast Exodus very ‘carefully.’ Could you expand on that?
I guess being a director, in some ways, is like being the captain of a sports team, like a soccer team, and you have to make sure that you have every position covered really well because that will help you to win the game. So I always look on making a film as a partnership and that’s what casting is all about, whether it’s the star or the guy with one line. And by doing that you enable them to feel confident to try things out and feel free to suggest things. And over the years I’ve got the best results from actors who really are my partners in the process and it makes it all the more enjoyable. In this instance I’d met Christian four or five years ago when we had a cup of tea together and a rich tea biscuit in LA and he said ‘what are we going to do together?’ And I said ‘well, I’ll come up with something..’ and it wasn’t until five years later when I was thinking about the idea of Exodus and Moses being this kind of larger than life character who, at the same time, has to be played definitively as a very real person, that I thought of Christian and I knew he was the right actor for the role. It’s not a fantasy. Ramses certainly wasn’t a fantasy and somewhere Moses is very much written down and indicated and believed. So it’s a real thing.
Q: What was in your mind when you set about creating this international cast?
Egypt was – as it is now – a confluence of cultures, as a result of being a crossroads geographically between Africa, the Middle East and Europe. We cast major actors from different ethnicities to reflect this diversity of culture, from Iranians to Spaniards to Arabs. There are many different theories about the ethnicity of the Egyptian people, and we had a lot of discussions about how to best represent the culture.
Q: Are you concerned about how religious communities will receive the film?
I try to be as respectful and honest as possible, because my job is to put myself in the position of that man, as near as I can do it, and tell his story. I do that in partnership with an actor – in this case a wonderful actor, Christian Bale – and we want to honour the story and the man. I spent a lot of time casting this film and we cast it very carefully. And as I said, I think our actors have done a wonderful job.
Q: At the heart of the story is the relationship between Moses and Ramses. It’s a very human story of two men raised as brothers who end up on opposite sides. Was that part of the appeal, too.
Absolutely. Moses is Ramses’ brother in all but blood. They were very fond of each other and they were raised as brothers, but Ramses would always be first place, and Moses would never be in that position, but there was no competition. Moses didn’t want it – I think he was perfectly happy to be number two. Number two is a much easier position to be in. You have a better time (laughs).