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Recently director Alex Proyas and Lionsgate apologized for ethnically inaccurate casting in “Gods of Egypt” a full three months before the movie is set to hit theaters.  The fantasy epic stars Scottish actor Gerard Butler and Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as mythological Egyptian gods, and a recently released trailer renewed concern about Hollywood’s long tradition of casting against race.

In the jointly issued statements responding to social media criticism, Proyas acknowledged that the choices should have been more diverse and Lionsgate pledged to do better in the future.

While some praised the preemptive apology others were more skeptical, concluding that it’s simply meant to shut down any further backlash. Authenticity in casting has become a major discussion point in recent years, thanks in part to the amplifying effect of the Internet.

The topic doesn’t end with angry tweets and online petitions. While the practice didn’t go unnoticed before, now it’s becoming more of a liability.

Adam Moore, SAG-AFTRA’s National Director of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity said “There was a time when studios thought audiences could handle Mickey Rooney playing I. Y. Yunioshi in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That’s not happening today. No one is going to think that’s OK. Things have changed.”

However there’s also an inherent tension between art and authenticity.  Moore also added “From a performer’s perspective, it is not supposed to matter what ethnicity, race, sexual orientation or age you are, it’s what you can play. That’s what our federal and state laws say. You can’t ask someone when you’re casting ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ if they’re Japanese.”

Casting is a complex art and each production is different in terms of objectives, who makes the calls, and why specific decisions are made.  Lionsgate was in a tricky spot with “Gods of Egypt.” The movie had its main cast set over a year before “Exodus: Gods and Kings” hit theaters last December and wrapped shooting long before Scott’s choices were being publicly lambasted.

Casting Society of America issued a statement applauding Proyas and Lionsgate for recognizing that authenticity in casting is critical, and reiterating that its members are committed to diversity.  Perhaps Hollywood’s lengthy production pipeline just needs time to catch up with the public’s demand for casting authenticity.

However it remains to be seen whether the movie industry will ever completely eliminate its historic practice of ethnically inaccurate casting.

 

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