Following an online backlash, Gods of Egypt director Alex Proyas and the film’s studio, Lionsgate, have issued apologies for casting mostly white actors to play ancient Egyptians.
The film, which will debut in February 2016, is set in ancient Egypt. In addition to Gerard Butler and Courtney Eaton playing major characters, the film features other white actors starring in prominent roles.
Singer-actress Bette Midler was among those who criticized the film’s casting decisions, blasting the film on Twitter earlier this month:
Movie, #GodsOfEgypt in which everyone is white? Egyptians, in history and today, have NEVER been white. BRING BACK GEOGRAPHY!! It's Africa!
— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) November 12, 2015
Writing for Deadline Hollywood, Ross A. Lincoln also knocked the casting, noting that ancient Egyptians “definitely weren’t white people with flowing, curly blond locks, and their gods were definitely not Europeans.”
“To me, casting here stands out like a sore thumb leftover from 1950s Hollywood,” added Lincoln.
Last week, the leftwing site ThinkProgress criticized the film’s “whitewashing” and reported on the online backlash:
Audiences are already not pleased; the comments on both the official Facebook and YouTube pages for the trailer are filled with lines like “And yet again Hollywood is trying to white wash history. Ancient Egyptians were not white!” and “I didn’t know Egyptians were so Caucasian” and also “I know at some point even white people have to think ‘ok this is too much.’”
In response to the criticisms, Proyas and Lionsgate issued the following separate statements on Friday, according to The Hollywood Reporter:
Alex Proyas: “The process of casting a movie has many complicated variables, but it is clear that our casting choices should have been more diverse. I sincerely apologize to those who are offended by the decisions we made.”
Lionsgate: ”We recognize that it is our responsibility to help ensure that casting decisions reflect the diversity and culture of the time periods portrayed. In this instance we failed to live up to our own standards of sensitivity and diversity, for which we sincerely apologize. Lionsgate is deeply committed to making films that reflect the diversity of our audiences. We have, can and will continue to do better. ”
Director Ridley Scott was similarly criticized for his decision to cast white actors Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton to star as Moses and Ramses in Exodus: Gods and Kings.
“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 said. “I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”
Starring Gerard Butler, Courtney Eaton, Brenton Thwaites, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Rufus Sewell, Gods of Egypt will premiere Feb. 26.
Watch a trailer for the film below: