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Gerard Butler in ‘Gods of Egypt’ (Summit Entertainment)
By Lindsey Bahr, AP Film Writer
Gods of Egypt director Alex Proyas apologized for casting mostly white actors in his upcoming film based on Egyptian mythology.
The filmmaker and studio Lionsgate issued separate statements on Friday acknowledging the controversy sparked by the release of the film’s first trailer two weeks ago, featuring a cast led by Scottish actor Gerard Butler and Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
Australian director Proyas, who was born in Egypt, said it is clear that their casting choices should have been more diverse.
Lionsgate also said they are deeply committed to making films that reflect the diversity of their audiences and pledged to do better.
Gods of Egypt also stars actor Chadwick Boseman, an African American, and actress Elodie Yung, who is French-Cambodian.
“We recognize that it is our responsibility to help ensure that casting decisions reflect the diversity and culture of the time periods portrayed,” read Lionsgate’s statement, first reported by Forbes. “In this instance we failed to live up to our own standards of sensitivity and diversity.”
This self-aware response, issued well in advance of the film’s Feb. 26 release, comes on the heels of recent whitewashing controversies surrounding films like Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Aloha.
Selma director Ava DuVernay took note of the anomaly on Twitter.
“This kind of apology never happens — for something that happens all the time,” wrote DuVernay on Friday. “An unusual occurrence worth noting.”
Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and King, which featured Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Ramses, was criticized last year for its predominantly white cast.
Director Ridley Scott brushed off condemnations at the time, blaming the model of financing Hollywood movies for his choices. He told trade publication Variety that he would not be able to get the film financed by casting “Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such.”
“It’s always art against economics,” Scott told The Associated Press last December. “As soon as you’re at the higher levels of budgeting, you’ve got to get the film made and the only way to support the film is to have actors who can support the budget.”
Earlier this year, Cameron Crowe’s romantic dramedy Aloha drew similar public disapprovals for casting Emma Stone as a character who is supposed to be of Chinese, Hawaiian and Swedish descent.
In a June message posted on his website, TheUncool.com, Crowe explained that the character was always intended to be someone frustrated that she lacked outward signs of her ethnicity, while also apologizing to those who felt it was “an odd or misguided” choice.
“So many of us are hungry for stories with more racial diversity, more truth in representation,” added Crowe. “I am anxious to help tell those stories in the future.”
Hollywood has a long tradition of casting white actors as other ethnicities, but lately the practice is not going unchallenged and is often put under scrutiny as soon as castings are announced, as was the case with Joe Wright’s Pan, where Rooney Mara played Tiger Lily.
An outright apology prior to a film’s release in the case of Gods of Egypt is perhaps a sign that currents are changing.
As Blacklist founder Franklin Leonard noted on Twitter, Proyas’ and Lionsgate’s apologies are both “too little, too late” and also “kinda remarkable.”
Watch the trailer: