'Gods of Egypt' Finally Casts a God of Egypt Who Isn't a White Dude

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‘Gods of Egypt’ Finally Casts a God of Egypt Who Isn’t a White Dude

By Rebecca Pahle | Trade News | February 4, 2014 | Comments ()

chadwick boseman.jpeg

Hollywood, we need to have a talk about all the white people in your Biblical history/Egyptian mythology movies. There are currently three in development: The one where Christian Bale is Moses and Joel Edgerton is Rameses (I am a gigantic Edgerton fan, but no), the one where Russell Crowe is Noah and Hermione is Noah’s Daughter, and director Alex Proyas’ upcoming gem Gods of Egypt. That one’s basically Clash of the Titans, but Egyptian, where a mortal hero gets involved in a brouhaha between “good” and “evil” gods, including Set, Horus, and Ra.

Who are played by Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Geoffrey Rush, respectively.

You know who doesn’t come to mind when I think “Egyptian god”? Gerard freaking Butler. Cast him as a Scottish Viking or a Scottish Spartan? Fabulous! Cast him as a Scottish Egyptian god? No, no, no, my friends. You thought 2013 was bad, with Tonto and Khan being played by white actors? 2016 is looking to be exponentially worse, with the whitewashing of entire large swathes of Egyptian mythology.

I add the qualification “entire large swathes” because, praise Ra, at least one God will be played by a person of color: Chadwick Boseman, star of the pretty dang good 42 (and I don’t just say that because Nicole Beharie, the star of my favorite currently-running show Sleepy Hollow, is in it) will be Thoth, the god of learning. Maybe he can pull Proyas aside and talk to him about how there are really relatively few opportunities afforded to actors of color compared to their white counterparts, so if he could stop taking away roles meant for POC, that would be great.

I’ll just be over here waiting for Hieroglyph, Fox’s upcoming fantasy show set in ancient Egypt. The first two actors it cast—Condola Rashad as Nefertari and Reece Ritchie as a Pharoah—are both POC. Oh, and it’s being written by Pacific Rim scribe Travis Beacham. You tried, Gods of Egypt. You tried. But I know which Egyptian mythology horse I’m backing.

Via Digital Spy

Rebecca Pahle is an Associate Editor at The Mary Sue and writes miscellaneous cinematic screeds of her very own at Cinefeels.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Coolg82

    I don't typically take too much notice to this kind of thing unless genuine ill will is involved in the casting. This kind of casting is typically done in order to get a good actor regardless of color or gag casting, like putting Gerard Butler in another historic and grandiose role like 300 in a case of actor allusion. The opposite end of this spectrum is "Just find a black guy, they were supposed to be black, right?" Like with Star Trek Into Darkness and Thor, less interest was put in casting the role to color than was casting the role to acting ability, plus both actors were very popular at the time, so it was also gag casting.

    Plus, any discussion of Benedict Cumberbatch and him being white must also mention that Ricardo Montalban was Mexican and not Sikh Indian or else they tread into the territory of "He was brown, so same difference."

  • foolsage

    Wait, wait, wait, it's not the same difference? Are you saying that there's some kind of... variety... among brown people?

    Crazy talk.

  • e jerry powell

    Not so very long ago, I sent a tacky little flame e-mail to Hi-Rez games about their half-assed attempts at inclusiveness in SMITE.

    To their credit, they've designed male and female characters from the Hindu, Greco/Roman, Chinese, Mayan, Norse, and (very European-looking) Egyptian pagan pantheons.

    Not a single Yoruban orisha. I was HOT. About like Patrick got upset that the new battle game the company just launched didn't have female playable characters for him to play (not because he's an effeminate kind of gay guy, but...) in "Looking at Your Browser History."

  • Alicia

    Not a single Yoruban orisha. I was HOT.

    Is that the only omission? Are there any Celtic, Inca, Russian pagan, Japanese, ancient Persian, et cetera, deities or mythological figures represented?

  • e jerry powell

    Nope. They went after the big ones. The Inca and Maya would have been among the coolest in a battle game.

  • foolsage

    No love for Legba (Ellegua, if you prefer) eh? Sad.

  • e jerry powell

    OH, I listed the whole damn pantheon with appropriate reference links. They're not looking to expand beyond their extant playable character pantheons for the foreseeable future.

    What's funny is that I'm not even a gamer, and I'm still HOT about it.

  • foolsage

    The funny thing is, I ought to be the target audience for these shows. I studied Middle Egyptian while in university, decades ago (yes, I can read hieroglyphs). Sadly, it's already fairly apparent that none of these shows will actually respect the cultures involved, and instead we'll just get a generic fantasy muddle to the theme of "Egyptian Myths Reimagined for Americans Who Really Don't Like Foreign Stuff". Sigh.

    I'm American too. Just saying.

    Someday, the people making these films will stop making the same stupid mistakes that comic book movies made continually in the 90s. If you don't respect your source material, the audience won't either.

    The really sad thing is that there's some awesome source material there. I would love the FUCK out a show that tried to portray ancient Egypt, as long as they strove for historical accuracy when possible, and mythological accuracy when necessary. But noooooo, we won't get that. We'll get some ludicrous caricature based on a producer's five-minute Wikipedia research.


  • Merski

    You know, I was about to agree with you but then you wrote "Nikolaj Coster-Waldau" and I am now totally on board!

  • Stu Rat

    But gods can choose how they appear!
    That was the explanation for Idris Elba as Heimdal, wasn't it?
    BTW large portions of the African continent contain people who aren't of the ethnic groups that are collected under the term 'black'.

  • barcia

    So clearly gods would (almost) always choose to be white!

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Aliens are not gods.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I did think that too, but she doesn't say "black" she says "actors of color." And if my hunch is that this isn't set in a Ptolemaian/Greek Egypt. So they should at least tend toward Arabic/Semitic.

  • foolsage

    Well, "Heiroglyph" is set during the 19th Dynasty, based on the presence of Nefertari. That's a long time before the Greeks invaded; roughly 900 years prior to Alexander's conquest.

  • I'll be disappointed if Hieroglyph's opening song isn't Iron Maiden's "Powerslave"

  • vic

    It would make more sense if they were all played by, you know, Middle Eastern actors, but whatever. Awesome as Egyptian mythology is, I know I'm not gonna watch this.

  • foolsage

    Yup. News flash: the people of Ancient Egypt looked like the other people of that region (North Africa, that is, not the rest of the continent). When they portrayed e.g. their wars with the Nubians, you can clearly see the difference between how the Egyptians saw themselves and how they saw their neighbors to the south.

    In other news, people in Libya, Algeria, and Morocco are also not predominantly black.

    Nor are they caucasian, for the record.

    Other ethnic groups exist, people.

  • JJ

    *stands up*

    What's a Nubian?

  • foolsage


    Now... Vader, he's a spiritual brother, y'know, down with the force and all that good shit. Then this cracker, Skywalker, gets his hands on a light saber and the boy decides he's gonna run the fuckin' universe; gets a whole clan of whites together. And they go and bust up Vader's hood, the Death Star. Now what the fuck do you call that?

  • I didn't see anywhere where the author was advocating that black actors get these roles. She said actors of color. That means non-white. Soooo... what's your beef?

  • foolsage

    My beef is with the assumption that these roles need to go to either people with black skin, or to people with fair skin. You're right that Rebecca referred to "people of color" but none of them actually look like people from that area in that time.

    So, really, my beef is with accuracy in casting. I'm all for casting people of color in roles! But there are colors besides "black" (and "white"), and in this case, those would be the right colors. Which is to say, "people of color" aren't interchangeable.

    Edit to add: Rebecca was pretty cheerful about the casting of Chadwick Boseman, for instance. He's black. He's not similar in appearance to the people of ancient Egypt. Condola Rashad is also black, and also doesn't look much like the people of ancient Egypt. Reece Ritchie (I had to look him up) looks vaguely arabic in some lighting, so that one's a pass at least.

  • I love me some nuance. Thank you for clarifying, and I agree in every way.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    IIRC, the people in ancient Upper Egypt had darker skin. Nubia was also part of the realm for a long time.

  • foolsage

    Fair enough; the first nome in Upper Egypt was at Aswan, which was pretty far south. Again though, Egyptian art consistently differentiates between the way Egyptians looked and the way e.g. the Nubians looked.

  • foolsage

    Here's some art by the Egyptians themselves, depicting the battle of Kadesh (against the Hittites in this case). Look at the skin colors of the people in question:


    Now, we can believe the Egyptians' own art. Or we could just look at the people who live there now, and who live in the surrounding areas.

    Or we can just ignore all the evidence and make wild guesses. That's popular. :)

  • Ninja_Toes

    Well apparently many modern Egyptians retain strong genetic similarities to ancient mummies and skeletons (confirmed by craniofacial studies and DNA testing according to wonderful Wikipedia), which means they represent as accurate a picture of what the Ancient Egyptians looked like as anything we are going to get now.

    And the Nubian people are still living in southern Egypt today in modest numbers (also apparently greatly unchanged genetically), and you can see some differences in overall appearance between them and northern Egyptians.

    So I guess what I am saying is, if you're aiming for "accuracy" in these movies, there really isn't much excuse because you have examples. And Egyptian T.V. is brimming with soap operas, so there are definitely heaps of actors to choose from...

  • BlackRabbit

    Also, certain names bring money. Sure
    Oded Fehr, for example, might "look better" for the role (and yes I know he's not Egyptian) but will he bring in the dollars? If not, will accurate casting? If not, how do you justify it if you're trying to make the film? I'm not defending them, just playing the other side, so to speak.

  • Salad_Is_Murder

    I'd watch him in just about anything, love me some Oded. I know he's not from Egypt, but isn't he from Lebanon or Isreal?

  • BlackRabbit

    Wiki says Israel.

  • foolsage

    That's certainly a fair point: casting choices affect profits. Some people don't care about accuracy. Some people just want to be pandered to. And honestly, that's ok; though it sounds snarky when I say it like this, I don't mind that there are movies out there that whitewash other cultures and make everything accessible to xenophobes. Just like I don't mind that Panda Express sells food that some people think is "authentic". There's room out there for a lot of different tastes.

    I personally prefer accuracy and attention to historical and mythological detail, but I don't expect everyone to share my preferences.

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    ✿✿✿✿ ✿〯✿✿ ✿�✿〮✿ ✿✿✿Someday, the people making these films will stop making the same stupid mistakes that comic book movies made continually in the 90s.

  • foolsage

    The excuse, simply speaking, is that America remains fairly Islamophobic. Anything Middle-eastern is suspicious, so we have to Westernize it for public consumption.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    It might be the lighting, but the guy on the chariot looks kinda red to me. The horse, too. :p

    Looking at people who live there now won't help much. 5000 years of migration changed a lot (fucking Greeks; storming the joint and stealing the jobs of honest pharaos) .

    I agree that the people were probably pretty diverse, phenotype-wise.

    What's Alexander Siddig doing these days, anyway?

  • Welldressed

    Alex Siddig is playing the King of Atlantis on BBC America's Atlantis.

  • foolsage

    You're quite right; the Egyptians consistently portrayed their skin as being reddish.

    And yes, migrations have certainly changed the populace in Egypt, not least the Muslims, who brought the arabic language with them. We can turn to the rest of north Africa to get a sense what those people look like, then, or we can use the art and writing of the Egyptians themselves.

    And YES! There you go, a perfect example of someone who fits the roles in question. Plus I freaking love his full name: Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderrahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahdi. He's quite good in "Da Vinci's Demons".

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I was thinking of Deep Space 9, Kingdom of Heaven and Syrania, not that ... thing. Incidentally, I just remembered seeing the poor guy in Atlantis.

    How long have the Berbers been there?

  • foolsage

    Heh, fair enough. I get that "Da Vinci's Demons" isn't all that popular.

    The Berbers have been in that area for probably 12,000 years. They've kind of settled in by now. ;)

  • Fabius_Maximus

    There's your example, then.

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