A Hollywood 'historical' adaptation of Moses and his exodus from Egypt was probably always going to engender some controversy - and controversy is certainly what it's got.
Okay, were not talking The Interview level of controversy here (no one has threatened international thermonuclear war), but Exodus: Gods & Kings has managed to get itself banned in several countries - most notably Egypt itself.
Why Was It Banned?
The film, which is set in the ancient nation - but curiously only features white Anglo-American actors in leading roles - has officially been banned in Egypt, Morocco and The United Arab Emirates. In the case of Egypt, the Culture Ministry explained its decision was based on major historical and religious inaccuracies as well as a racist depiction of Jews. Furthermore, the censors added the film was thinly veiled Zionist propaganda. The official statement claimed:
[Exodus: Gods & Kings contains] intentional gross historical fallacies that offend Egypt and its pharaonic ancient history in yet another attempt to Judaize Egyptian civilization, which confirms the international Zionist fingerprints all over the film.
It stated Egyptians are framed as "savages" who kill and hang Jews, despite the fact hanging was not used for executions in ancient Egypt. It also, rather unusually, claimed the depiction of Jews as strong, determined and independent was "racist." Instead, the censors claimed religious scripture does not talk of an armed insurrection, but instead showed Jews to be weak and oppressed. That's certainly an interesting definition of "racist."
The Culture Ministry also objected to the depiction of God as a child - an artistic decision which was also raised some eyebrows in the West.
Egypt is a majority Muslim country, but also has a significant Christian minority - both groups of which are particularly conservative by American and European standards. With this mind, it's not terribly surprising Exodus has been banned. Darren Aronofky's similar biblical epic, Noah, was also banned in Egypt and the wider Muslim world, and any film which deals with the potential depiction of religious characters, especially Islamic prophets, generally always engender controversy.
But the controversy doesn't end there...
However, this isn't the only controversy to land at the feet of Ridley Scott. Previous to Exodus' release, Scott also took fire for not casting a single Egyptian or Middle Eastern actor in a lead role.
Scott responded by simply telling critics to "Get a life", which as fair as responses go isn't exactly constructive.
Surprisingly, it came down to the film's star, Christian Bale, to actually provide a level-headed and well-phrased response to the accusations. He stated:
He's been incredibly honest in getting a large, big-budget film like this made... I don’t think fingers should be pointed, but we should all look at ourselves and say, ‘Are we supporting wonderful actors in films by North African and Middle Eastern filmmakers and actors, because there are some fantastic actors out there.' If people start supporting those films more and more, then financiers in the market will follow. To me that would be a day of celebration. For the actors it would be wonderful. It would be a wonderful day for humanity, but also for films and for storytelling in general.
However, Exodus isn't the first film to fall foul of this accusation. Alex Proyas' upcoming Egyptian mythology movie, Gods of Egypt, has also hired an almost exclusively white Anglo-American cast including Gerard Butler, Brenton Twaites and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
We'll have to wait until 2016 to see if that movie gets a similar response from the Egyptian government. In the meantime, you can catch Exodus in theaters now.
Should Ridley Scott have cast more local actors in Exodus?