Remember the Time When Ancient Egypt was White?

Because Hollywood never learns its lesson, Summer 2016 is going to bring yet another whitewashed movie about Ancient Egypt. Late last week Lionsgate shocked the world and unveiled character posters for God of Egypt, a movie that, until now, literally no one had heard about. Then yesterday, they dropped an even more ridiculous trailer.

It’s like Lionsgate watched last year’s mega flop Exodus: Gods and Kings and thought to themselves, “You know what a movie about Ancient Egypt needs? More white people!” So they cast Jaime Lannister and Leonidis (aka the Spartan with the Scottish accent) as the warring gods Horus and Set. For extra measure they cast Geoffrey Rush as the Sun God Ra. Seriously, they picked three of the whitest actors in Hollywood — I mean, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is so white he was born in Denmark FFS — to play these gods:

“But Keith,” you’re probably saying, “these are mythical beings. Why should the actors’ race matter?” Well, if you are indeed asking that question, 1.) what the hell? and 2.) they aren’t the only white folk in the movie. As the trailer shows, the film actually follows the story of a couple of mortals — read: humans in Egypt — getting caught up in this war of the gods. So who did they cast to play an actual Egyptian human?

That’s Australian actor Brenton Thwaites — last seen as the lead in The Giver. Ugh. As was pointed out on twitter multiple times, at least Dreamworks’ Prince of Egypt — which came out in 1998 — tried to acknowledge people were brown, even if the voice cast wasn’t.

In fact, the only people of color in the cast — at least as depicted in the marketing — are, coincidentally two of the only POCs in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Elodie Yung (Elektra) and Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther). And as much as I love Elodie Yung and championed her racebent casting in Daredevil, I’m not sure she passes as the Egyptian goddess of love.

We don’t know if either she or Chadwick ever pointed out how overwhelmingly white their take on Egypt was, but both kind of stick out in this sea of whiteness that is Gods of Egypt. I’m not sure either actor will want to be associated with this flick in the future. Especially since they’re both on the verge of superstardom — thanks to their Marvel association.

That’s the other thing about this movie that bugs me. This idea of “bankability” is often used when arguing against more inclusive casting. Ridley Scott1 basically said this when he cast Exodus.

“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.”

To counter this notion of bankability, our pal Marc Bernardin tweeted out the following thread when the trailer dropped yesterday.

Or better yet, if I wanted to watch an epic fantasy about Ancient Egypt, I’ll just check out Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” video.

Who needs Gods of Egypt when you have the King of Pop anyway?

  1. Like Ridley Scott, Alex Proyas is a director whose early genre films Dark City and The Crow are movies I absolutely love. 

11 thoughts on “Remember the Time When Ancient Egypt was White?

  1. Another ancient Egyptian fantasy worth skipping. Oh, and I did hear about it, as did other people who keep track of these things.

    1. I just read that while Chadwick Boseman is in the movie and is playing the god, THOTH, they barely show him in the just released trailer and I see why….they got him looking like a cross between a baboon and a bird. (smh)

  2. I will be sure to SKIP “Gods of Egypt”! Although I see they managed to cast THOTH (God of Wisdom) as a person of color. Back to Exodus: Gods and Kings…It was so LOL to see Bale as Moses and Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton in key “Egyptian” roles. HILARIOUS. At least Sir Ben Kingsley is an Anglo-Indian.

    I notice that Egyptian casting in contemporary cinema his highly controversial based on the comments from ordinary people. But, look at Egyptians today, they tend to run the complexion spectrum of anywhere from Anwar Sadat to Hosni Mubarek than these European hues. Get real, Hollywood!

  3. It’s becoming clear that Hollywood, perhaps much of American media, has a narrow mind in how to represent the Middle East. There’s Ancient Egypt, the Crusades, Bible films, and stories about fighing terrorism…or how American culture imposes itself on them (Sex in the City 2).

    But other countries have told broader stories. European shows also touch on terrorism, but they also depict Muslims and Arabs who are trying to live in European society. Even Brazil had an award-winning T.V. series back in 2001 about a cloned man who falls in love with a Moroccan girl.

  4. Holy hell this looks awful. Great point about the whitewashing, that’s so blatant. And whatever happened to Alex Proyas? Like you, I love the Crow and Dark City was the Matrix before the Matrix. So how is he now making things like this?

    1. Yes, what DID happen to Alex Proyas? Shame on you, AP! I mean, this is the guy who did “I, Robot,” too.

  5. You’re kidding?

    Well, I see Proyas and the studio issued a recent apology via the media. So, the push back was worthwhile but the film is still in the can.

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