Perhaps recent events suggest that Hollywood casting directors (and others with a financial stake in the commercial success of a big-budget movie) are working from within a post-racial worldview and are simply awaiting the rest of the film-going public to catch up. That “perhaps” requires a significant, if not impossible level of suspended disbelief given the casting decisions made for a couple of hopeful blockbusters: “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “Gods of Egypt.”
In posts on multiple social media platforms, both films have caught some unsurprising heat for not only tapping white actors to play certain iconic roles but for which parts were eventually offered to people of color. The opinions that informed which actor was chosen for what role in either movie ultimately figured that Jaime Lannister would make a believable Egyptian god of war and that if Jesse Pinkman was an okay sidekick for Walter White, he’d be an okay sidekick for Moses, too.
Fine. As incidences of miscast actors go, these decisions are arguably no more or less perplexing than Clint Eastwood as the love interest in “The Bridges of Madison County” or Jason Biggs in literally anything. But then,when the collected headshots from “Gods of Egypt” could be used to make a mosaic of unseasoned mashed potatoes and with actors like Adrian Palmer and Emmanuel Akintunde listed beside generic (if not stereotypic and pejorative) character names such as “Egyptian Thief” and “Moses’ General,” the natural response would seem to be something like: “What? Wait. What?!”
There are those that will almost certainly interpret anyone taking issue with this as the PC police trying to make hay over another non-event. Take for example what Rupert Murdoch said on Twitter yesterday in response to the furor: “Moses film attacked on Twitter for all white cast. Since when are Egyptians not white? All I know are.” Murdoch followed up with a string of racist tweets that belied his “color blindness” and hinted that his bias was underpinned by something more insidious than his desire to see the 20th Century Fox film do well. Okay. Bad example.
At risk of seeming to excuse the choices made by casting directors, the notion of “bankability” and similar requisite qualities that a given actor brings to production says as much about the powers behind movie-making as it does the people that will soon make these movies hits. That is, a disturbing element to many posts railing against the sins perpetrated by films like these has been indignation and righteousness. While these reactions are perfectly justifiable in many cases, in the instance that it was typed from the keyboard of a so-called ally, it also begs questions.
At the same time that Rupert Murdoch and like-minded status-quo aficionados were burbling online, a competing uproar (or at very least a surge in retrofitted racist jokes) was making its way around the same sites. Inspired by the image of John Boyega in stormtrooper gear that opens the recently released teaser for “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens,” the exceptions taken ranged from the “unbelievability” of a black stormtrooper to Boyega’s appearance evoking for them only comparisons to one of the desert scenes from “Spaceballs.” There were, of course, voices that attempted to undercut the offense or disappointment of some posters. Nerds confronted the believability angle, noting that the presence of the white plastic armor in no way indicated that Boyega’s character was actually a stormtrooper. Others expressed excitement and cited Boyega’s strong performance in “Attack the Block” as one of the many reasons to look forward to the film. The actor himself likely provided the best punctuation to the online hubub when he tweeted a thank you to fans followed by a “To whom it may concern … Get used to it.”
One may hope, self-righteously or no, that the acuity of the former upset and the rank stupidity of the latter are hints that the imperative posted by the “black stormtrooper” relates to a matter of fact and not merely an assertive suggestion; that this becomes a seized opportunity for frank discussions about racialization and the perpetuation of social inequalities. That the conversation seems to have quickly digressed to analysis of the hypothetical mechanics of the sphere-like droid in the new “Star Wars” teaser and a revisiting of some the (less-than-thoughtful) considerations as to whether 58-year-old Carrie Fisher’s Leia is too old to be a Disney Princess or whether Leia herself is “just for boys,” is cause for frustration, if not disappointment and anger.
On that note: this guy is playing Moses. Discuss.