Ridley Scott has said it would be impossible to finance films if his lead actor was an unknown called "Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such".
Responding to months of criticism over the apparent lack of ethnic diversity in Exodus: Gods and Kings, the Gladiator director brushed off the outrage by insisting that, had white actors not filled most of the key roles in his upcoming biblical epic, it would never have got off the ground financially.
“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,” he toldVariety.
“I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”
Oscar winner Christian Bale (The Dark Knight, The Fighter) plays historically Middle Eastern character Moses in Exodus, while white actors Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver star as Egyptian Pharaoh Rhamses and Queen Tuya respectively.
Ethnic minority actors do feature, but in secondary roles (Ben Kingsley as Nun, Golshifteh Farahani as Nefertari and Indira Varma as Miriam, for example).
Christian Bale on screen
Christian Bale on screen
1/13 Exodus: Gods and Kings
Bale stars as the 'barbaric' Moses in Ridley Scott's Exodus
2/13 The Dark Knight
Bale took on the iconic role of superhero Batman for Christopher Nolan's 2008 movie
AP Photo/Warner Bros.
3/13 American Hustle
Bale starred as a conman alongside Bradley Cooper in the Oscar-nominated American Hustle
4/13 The Fighter
Bale in his Oscar-winning role as boxer and trainer Dicky Eklund
5/13 Out Of The Furnace
Bale as the vengeful Russell Baze in Scott Cooper's 2013 crime thriller
6/13 The Dark Knight Rises
Bale reprises his role as Batman in a scene from 2012's The Dark Knight Rises
7/13 The Prestige
Bale as magician Alfred Borden in the Oscar-nominated 2006 drama
8/13 Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Bale played Mandras in Captain Corelli's Mandolin alongside Penelope Cruz and Nicolas Cage
9/13 Little Women
Bale as Laurie in the 1994 film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel
10/13 Batman Begins
Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman in 2005's Batman Begins
11/13 American Psycho
Bale starred as Patrick Bateman in the 2000 film adaptation
12/13 Empire Of The Sun
Bale starred in Steven Spielberg's 1987 film as a young boy
13/13 Terminator Salvation
Scott addressed his critics last August by assuring film fans that Exodus would represent “a confluence of cultures”.
“There are many different theories about the ethnicity of the Egyptian people and we had a lot of discussions about how to best represent the culture,” he told Yahoo.
“We cast major actors from different ethnicities to reflect the diversity of culture, from Iranians to Spaniards to Arabs.”
Edgerton also responded to complaints, acknowledging the ‘whitewashing’ accusations as fair.
“It’s not my job to make those decisions, he told SBS. “I got asked to do a job and it would have been very hard to say no to that job. But I do say that I am sensitive to it and I do, I do understand and empathise with that position.”
However, a protest was soon launched on Twitter urging cinema-goers to #BoycottExodusMovie.
Stop brainwashing these young white children. You have the growing up thinking they were kings and Queens in Africa #BoycottExodusMovie— highgyal (@SwagofDoom) November 25, 2014
Scott's film is not the only one to come under fire for its allegedly racist casting. Upcoming Warner Bros movie Pan has been criticised for casting white actress Rooney Mara in the role of Native American princess Tiger Lily.
The Hollywood Diversity Report, published earlier this year showed that only 11 per cent of films cast an ethnic minority actor in a lead role while ethnic minority actors made up just 10 per cent of the cast in the majority of movies.
Exodus: Gods and Kings reaches UK cinemas on 26 December.Reuse content