Ridley Scott’s Explanation For Whitewashing His Exodus Movie Is Infuriating
By David Dennis, Jr.
Ridley Scott’s Exodus movie is still racist as shit. And his explanations as to why he chose to make his main characters of the Exodus story set in Egypt White while making the servants and thieves Black didn’t make me feel any better, either.
I have no clue if people will actually boycott Exodus: Gods And Kings. The movie might be a hit. It may tank. It may tank because it’s just not an appealing movie. It may tank because the #BoycottExodus movement really put a dent in the film’s promotional push. I don’t know what will happen. Here’s what I do know: I’m more convinced than ever that Ridley Scott doesn’t care that he whitewashed his movie.
Here’s what he said in a profile for Variety:
Like most high-profile religious pictures since Martin Scorsese’s 1988 “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Exodus” became the subject of intense media scrutiny before Scott had ever exposed a frame of (digital) film on stages at London’s Pinewood Studios and on location in Spain. Much of the outcry online stemmed from his decision to cast white American, European and Australian actors in most of the key roles, no matter that the same could be said of “The Passion of the Christ,” “Noah,” “The Ten Commandments” and virtually any other big-budget Bible movies. “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such,” Scott says. “I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”
I’m officially angry now.
Scott’s response is pompous, flippant and doesn’t make an ounce of sense. The idea that Ridley Scott can’t get a movie funded off of his name alone is absolutely ridiculous. He’s Ridley Scott for White Chrissakes. He could get $100 million off his name even if he cast a broomstick, the Aflac duck and Taylor Kitsch in a remake of Lady And The Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure. But let’s take his comments at face value. Maybe it is difficult to get funding for a movie without Hollywood stars even if the director is Ridley Scott. Does he have to make sure those stars are all White? It’s not like he doesn’t know any stars of color.
The Scott-directed American Gangster starred Denzel Washington, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Idris Elba. Gladiator featured Djimon Hounsou. Each of those actors has had box office success. In fact, American Gangster itself grossed more than $250 million with a nearly all-Black cast and Russell Crowe. So even if he didn’t cast “Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such” (which…seriously?), it’s not impossible to find actors of color who have track records of successful movies. And hey, if he’s concerned that a project won’t work without an all-White cast then maybe — and I’m just spitballing here — a movie set in Africa isn’t for him.
I’m insulted that Scott would even dare to give the “my hands were tied…I had to be racist” approach, hiding behind some archaic, fictional premise that Hollywood movies only work with White stars. He’s had months to come up with an answer and that’s the best he could conjure. And it doesn’t even begin to hold water. Just last year the top-grossing actor in Hollywood is a half-Samoan, half-Black former pro wrestler who looks exactly like a guy who could have been born and raised in ancient Egypt if ancient Egypt had a killer Crossfit gym. Scott upped the ante of his racist casting by insulting my intelligence, too.
As I mentioned in my original article about this movie, it’s not just the fact that Scott chose all-white stars for his film that bothers me. It’s the juxtaposition of those stars against the backdrop of people of color being portrayed as the slaves. So what’s Scott’s explanation for that? Do subservient Black characters help his box office prospects in the same way whitewashing does? Unfortunately, we don’t get the answers because the Variety article glosses over the racial issues and leaves Scott’s unbelievable comments to float in the air without follow-up or scrutiny. This, of course, is after a condescending paragraph dismissing the very valid objections about the movie’s casting.
I don’t know if Ridley Scott is lying here, covering up some sort of blatant whitewashing with a makeshift and useless excuse or if he really didn’t even consider having people of color in leading roles. And I’m not at all sure which answer is worse. Regardless, this is still cinematic colonialism. This is still whitewashing. This is still a $300 million exercise in erasing an entire race of people from their own history. It’s inexcusable that this movie could go from the conceptualizing phase to casting to production to marketing without anyone suggesting that the film have a modicum of cultural sensitivity and historical accuracy. It’s scary to think about how many people decided to let this happen.
The apathy towards the movie’s whitewashing isn’t confined to Scott’s “Mohammad So-and-So” (Again…seriously?) BS. There’s Joel Edgerton, who gave a “meh, oh well” response back in August: “It’s not my job to make those [casting] decisions…I got asked to do a job, and it would have been very hard to say no to that job.”
Apparently Edgerton looked around, noticed that the only thing Black about the main cast was their eyeliner and started to ask some questions; then his direct deposit came in and he said f*ck it. I hope the money was worth it.
I’m so sick and tired of people being flippant with my history while being dismissive of an entire culture’s impact on the landscape of modern civilization. I’m tired of teachers who told me that Egypt wasn’t really in Africa and movies that try to distance people of color from one of the world’s most advanced civilizations. If you get denied $300 million because you wanted to make a movie with accurate-looking characters not divided along racial lines, make a $150 million movie that doesn’t contribute to the subjugation of a substantial amount of people worldwide. I don’t need CGI locusts nearly as much as I want a movie that doesn’t look like Party Of Five: African Excursion.
What Ridley Scott and his cast are looking at is a film that could and should have been great. Scott has directed some of my favorite movies and I really wish I wanted to see Exodus as I’m sure it’s objectively a good-to-great movie. But his own close-mindedness and racist approach have ended my desire to see a second of the film. And I know of quite a few people who share that sentiment. Again, I’m not sure how much impact the boycott Exodus movement has done to the movie’s prospects, but I think it’s safe to say that — ironically — I think it would have fared better if Scott sent a few fliers out to “Mohammad so-and-so from the mean streets of such-and-such,” favoring authenticity over cultural negligence.
I ended the original piece about Exodus with, “Boycott the movie. Go see the movie. I don’t care.” It’s my one regret about the article. I do care. Boycott this movie. Let Hollywood (and Ridley Scott) know that whitewashing won’t be tolerated and simply slapping White faces on movie posters isn’t a tried-and-true formula for success anymore. If you’re going to tell our story, then treat us with respect. Until then, when it comes to seeing your movies, the question won’t even come up.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and editor based out of Atlanta (but it’s still WHO DAT all day). He’s currently an editor at Moguldom Media whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, CNN Money, The Source, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the Internet. He’s a New Orleans Press Club award recipient and has been cited in Best Music Writing. He’s also a proud alum of Davidson College.