Another thing Broadway does better than Hollywood.

One of our sister industry’s biggest releases this December is the Old Testament inspired Exodus: Gods and Kings, starring the very white Christian “I didn’t scream at any cameramen this time” Bale as Moses (does anyone see the irony in Moses being played by a guy whose first name is Christian?) . . .  and the even whiter Joel Edgerton as the Egyptian (?) Pharaoh, Ramses II.

As this interesting article from the Associated Press begins, “Put ‘ancient Egyptian people’ into a Google image search and none of the resulting photos resemble Christian Bale or Joel Edgerton.”

When pressed about why he didn’t hire actors that were more ethnically appropriate, Director Ridley Scott said that he never would have been able to get the movie made if “my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such.”

I’m going to try and cut Rid some slack and ignore the obvious insensitivity of his comment, because I think it came from his own frustration of not being able to hire the best people for the job, both in terms of talent, and in terms of making sure his work is more historically accurate.

It’s ironic, isn’t it . . . that film can make such obviously inaccurate choices, when it, by nature, is an ultra realistic art form.  If a film wants to show a car driving down the street, it shows a car driving down the street.  In the theater, that has to be shown theatrically, or not shown at all.  Right?  Film depends on realism.  Yet it can make a choice like the stars of Exodus, despite spending so much money on special effects and scenic design to make every other detail look so perfectly from the era.

It’s just funny to me.  I mean, I get it.  But still . . . it’s counter-intuitive, which is why big budget studio movies get the rep they do.

In the theater, we not only strive to make more authentic choices, but we can even make non-traditional choices that can make our pieces even richer.  (Ever look at a piece of art from five feet away – and then fifteen feet away?  That’s what different casting can do.)

And when we do stray outside these lines we get spanked (remember the realistic musical Miss Saigon and the backlash the show got for casting Jonathan Pryce as the Engineer?).

I’m not saying we do the right thing all the time.  But we’re making more better choices than our sister industry on the other coast, and that’s something I’m proud of.


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  • Esther Iris says:

    Ridley Scott’s comment was crude but in essence, it’s no different than a producer who says “I’m never going to get this play on Broadway without a star.” Just ask the actors who where in “A Steady Rain” in Chicago or “The Realistic Joneses” at the Yale Rep but were replaced by bigger stars when those plays moved to Broadway. Or, for that matter, the actor who stepped aside so Sting could step into “The Last Ship.” Broadway shouldn’t give itself too big a pat on the back.

    • Shawna Tucker says:

      I’m with Esther on this. I am all for getting the best actor to do the part, but now long-time Broadway actors will say that the only way to a starring part on Broadway is to get a name in L.A. first. Although I will give the stage credit for casting (for the most part) people who look like ordinary people, and not some surgically-enhanced fantasy clone.

  • David Merrick Jr says:

    Why blame Scott for being honest?

    There is no way in the world a studio is going to fund a $200 million epic unless it stars someone with a bankable track record.

    Would you?

  • Jacquie says:

    I too would have to disagree with you. Perhaps you are doing better in your casting, but the majority of theaters are not. That goes for using names and for failing to cast actors of color – all colors.

  • Dan Radakovich says:

    OK, as a hidtorian hat is produced and set on fat head, firstly it is believed the Exodus occurred at a time when the Upper Nle was occupied by the Hyksos or sea peoples, and theHrbtres were recent immigrants from Canaan who apparently had some connection withthe Greeks of Sparta[cf. a dip;omatic mission that would take place around the time of the Maccabees citing some ancient rleationship. ergo the casting, as the Hyksos were also called the sea Peoples, this was not likely inaccurate casting. Provided the egyptians and Hebrews residing there are well-shaven at the head :). Also despire spmme people’s perceptions Cleopatra was descended form almost pure Graeco-Macedonian stock . Aseries of black Pharoahs from Nubia were in power for one or two dynasties, and possibly Nefertiti may have had some of that heritagebut they were not during the time concerned. The darkening of skin color of people intheLevant and North Africn littoral occurred gradually over centuries, not until Rome was in power for a wile withits immense appetite for slaves did the change begin. ..expedited by the Arans and their hunger for people who could till soil and work in cities ehich brought more demand for slvves and as Islam took to expanding south of the Sahara.Remember Moses though Hebrew passed easily for Egyptian since he was adopted as such. The diversity shown in the Persians in the 300 series is even less realistic since they were more whitebread than the Greeks in their [Persian and Mede] Royal caste. That quibble of ancient history aside, there is no reason to nto cast people regardless of skin shade in any part even historically brfore the advent of neuroticpost-1800 sensibilities. Before then it was possible to have free people[or for that matter slaves ro bound servants] of any color encountered– the restrctive laws began after that, at least for commoners, nobles and royalty might be a bit problematical, though some of Revolutionary France’s best generals were mixed-bliid[Generals Dumas and Murat-wholater married a sister of Napoleon and whose kids dwelt happily in the South for years lionized by southern belles despite their heritage[being deposed princes topped any black blood one supposes] in the 1820s.

    What is more worrisome is the irreligious aspect of most modern efforts. The Ancient Greeks and Trojans believed in their goods as did the Tgyptians and Persians. This modern tendency to ignore or eliminate references is apalling. There is no peotry left. Troy had nothing of Homer. 300 little of Herodotus. None would have any claim of kinship with Euripedes or Sophocles. There are rumors a future project of the 300 people will be a graphic novel variant of Milton’s Paradise Lost, without Milton’s words? I mean what’s the point? If anyone wants a surefire buzzgetter I have an adaptation of it using his words which if put on in contradiction to that flick if it ever comes out should do well. At least it would have in a theatrical setting, some inkling of WHY it is rememberd, not for the orthodoxy of its presenting a Christian cosmology, but for the poetic genius of Milton’s rhymes. Theater gets away with it. Flicks maybe could but don’t count on it. And theater’d be more likely to pick James Earl Jones as God the Father.[though it might be impossible to prevent Kenneth Branagh from trying out for God the Son/Jesus-wry grin. He does seem to claim all early English stuff does he not?]

  • Michael says:

    As a therapist and an actor/writer/casting agent for people with disabilities, I have been concerned for way too long that the choices to which you refer do not include people with disabilities on a consistent basis. One of the most glaring errors was the musical “13” with a boy playing a child with what seemed to have been cerebral palsy (effectively I might add) who then comes out skipping his way to the curtain call. We just have to do a better job of at the very least SEEING people with disabilities at auditions, let alone actually casting them. Very tired of hearing ‘well we cast the best actor for the role’ when there is no concerted effort to see actors with disabilities. If there are actors with disabilities looking for work, I have a few contacts that are looking. Let’s all work on this together ok? Isn’t theatre one big supportive community?

  • Othello and Olivier came to mind…but in any art form I don’t believe looking the part is as important as having the characters spirit. That only should go so far though.

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    Edna Turnblad was played by a man, even though there were many capable females . (This is meant as a joke for those who see everything through a PC filter)

    However, while I agree with Ridley in some ways, there are certainly many actors of color who might have been considered and are certainly a bigger box office draw than Bale or Edgerton. BUt then again, these two have more of a sale to worldwide audiences than in America, and most films of this nature do far better overseas than in the US marketplace. Thats how they get pre-sales and co-financing from foreign companies.

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