Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Think Tank Tuesday 12/9/14: Hollywood's Whitewashing of 'Exodus'

picture source: hiddencolorsfilm.com
I have to admit I've never been a big fan of biblical movies. The fact is they're never completely accurate and as a student of the Bible I don't like folks tampering with Bible stories. I'm well aware of creative liberties writers take to make stories more appealing for the big screen, but some of those creative liberties go a little too far when they include inaccuracies and total fabrications that compromise the integrity of the story.

For example, Cecil B. Demille's classic The Ten Commandments starring Charleton Heston and Yul Brynner there's a scene where Joshua ventures to the land of Midian to persuade Moses to go back to Egypt to help his people. According to the Bible it was God who told Moses "...go, return into Egypt..." (Exodus 4:19). This tiny change is significant because it shifts the importance from God to Moses. Essentially it would make the story of the Exodus about a man (Moses) saving himself and his people because of his own will, instead of what it really is about -- God liberating his people via Moses who is a type of Christ in the story, symbolic of Jesus. Little changes like that may mean absolutely nothing to non-believers and simple entertainment seekers, but to believers adding a little here and/or taking away a little there can have tremendous effects on the underlying principles contained in the stories. 

When people are in an uproar about how Hollywood made all of the prominent people in Exodus: Gods and Kings white and the undesirable people black it really didn't shock me at all. When it comes to biblical movies made in Hollywood one thing is for sure, something won't be right to say the least. I did find it ironic to have white people playing the main roles when in the Bible the first mentioning of white skin was in the book of Exodus where Moses first meets God. In Exodus 4:7 God tells Moses to put his hand into his bosom and when he took it out , "...behold, his hand was leprous, as white as snow." The second mentioning (equally ironic) was as a punishment to Miriam the sister of Moses because she and her other brother Aaron talked against Moses for marrying an Ethiopian woman, and as a result Miriam was turned leprous "white as snow." Perhaps the writers overlooked those points. Check out this excerpt from an article featured on Mashable.com about the flick:

[The uproar against this film has been dragging on for months on end, initially because of the film's cast list. The movie stars carrying this film — Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton (if he can be called a "star" yet), Sigourney Weaver and Aaron Paul — are all white, as are most of the male supporting cast with speaking roles (save for Ben Kingsley, who is half-Indian).

In contrast, aside from Weaver, most of the main actresses with speaking roles — Hiam Abbass, Maria Valverde, Golshifteh Farahani and Indira Varma, mainly — are non-white, which might be the film's only saving grace in terms of racial casting ... When the initial casting for the film ignited uproar, it was because dark-skinned actors were cast as servants, soldiers, assassins — you get the idea. Going into this film, I remained open-minded — perhaps Scott had been unfairly vilified in the film's early reports. Instead, I was slapped in the face with racist imagery.

Within the first few minutes of the film, two black actors are shown, but they're merely servants to the high priestess (played by Varma). The next few times you see dark-skinned people, it's essentially the same — they're the ever-present bodyguards of Ramses, the wicked assassin sent to kill Moses. They're servants who flit in and out of rooms.

Dark-skinned people in this film are treated like furniture, scattered in the background like props. They are mute (I can count on one hand how many times a dark-skinned actor speaks, and that's being generous). It's a visual representation of the statistic that only 25.9% of speaking characters in 600 films from 2007-2010 and 2012-2013 were minorities.
Read the full article here!

Hollywood has been a racist institution for  decades with absolutely no signs of changing anytime soon. Should we really be looking to a racist institution for accurate portrayals of people of color in its films? Isn't it way past time for people of color to abandon the Hollywood machine to establish their own where accurate portrayals of their people can be brought to film? What are your thoughts?  

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