Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods And Kings movie is racist as shit. And it’s disgusting, lazy and a movie that people shouldn’t still be making in 2014.
Wait. Let me backtrack.
There was a time when I was fed up with the idea of religion, Jesus and the way they’re both used to oppress seemingly as many people as they save. I spent three months studying abroad in Ghana — in the villages and more impoverished areas of the country for the majority of that time — and I saw how so many “missionaries” were conflating “converting people to Christianity” with “convincing them that they’re uncivilized and need to be westernized.” This all came with billboards of a blonde-haired blue-eyed Jesus. Churches where traditional African garb was replaced with suits and ties in 90-degree weather because that was somehow the proper way to worship. I remember distinctly walking around with a White classmate of mine — he was blonde with a beard and sandals on — as he got stopped by a Ghanaian who couldn’t believe how much he looked like Jesus. I spoke to one taxi driver who explained that Judas was the only Black person in the Bible. I saw firsthand the crippling mental oppression and inferiority that religion can bring. I didn’t want any part of it.
Which brings me to Friday night. I went to see Get On Up and there was a preview for Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods And Kings movie about Moses’ story in the Bible. The first thing I noticed was that all the main characters are White. Moses is White. The Pharaoh is White. Tuya is super White and Joshua is Jesse Pinkman. Not only are these characters who are supposed to be Africans White, they’re not even remotely tan. They’re pearly White. Christian Bale is Moses, a former slave in Egypt who was using SPF infinity sunscreen because he’s still Gotham City White. You can convince me that a guy can shake a staff and make it rain locusts but I refuse to believe someone who grew up in Egypt in the sun doesn’t have a tan at least. But this is all Hollywood stuff, right? White guys are always cast in these roles and we’re all here to throw praise on a cast full of White guys no matter where or when they live. It would have been annoying enough if Scott stopped there. But look at the rest of the cast.
Not only are all the main characters White, but the servants, thieves and assassins are played by Africans. Guys. This is racist. Ridley Scott is one of those guys who’s apparently hellbent on historical accuracy but doesn’t care enough to cast a person of color as Moses or a goddamn African queen while simultaneously filling out the rest of the movie with Black servants and thieves. I could even accept him going the Louis CK route of “the best actor gets the job regardless of if race makes sense” and casting Merly Streep as Tuya, Benicio Del Toro as Moses and Choi Min-Sik as Rhamses for all I care. But to make the main characters White and everyone else African is cinematic colonialism. It’s creating a piece of historical “art” that carries on oppressive imagery that’s helped shackle entire countries and corners of the world.
I’m so goddamn sick of Hollywood and its acceptance of these oppressive images. If studies have shown the way that perpetual violence in movies begets violence in America, then what about perpetual maintenance of the White savior standing over the ethnic servant/villain/imbecile? What damage is this creating for the American psyche? How am I supposed to feel when all the messiahs, last samurais, African kings and saviors are White?
I know the initial reactions to articles about movies based on Bible stories is to do that cool Internet thing where you say how the Bible is fiction and it’s not important because fish weren’t even discovered when Jesus was alive or whatever cool nugget you read on Mental Floss. And why should people even care about a book that you think is as fictitious as Harry Potter, anyway? Just take into account that regardless of what any of you may think about religion, it’s a source of self-worth, inspiration and intense love for millions of people who dedicate their lives to whatever school of spiritual thought they choose. So while some may give a dismissive “lulz parting the sea” as an initial reaction, the idea of creating a race-based hierarchy with these figures isn’t an offense that should be taken lightly.
As a “religious” person, I’ve seen the benefits and glory that a relationship with God can have on an individual. Unfortunately, religion has been used to subjugate, oppress and demean way too many people for way too long. While Ridley Scott may think he’s just making a movie, he’s participating in this crippling structure of subjugation and Hollywood is footing the bill for it.
Boycott the movie. Go see the movie. I don’t care. Just know that what you’re watching — if you choose to watch it — is a crock of bullish*t.
Update 11/27/14: Ridley Scott has responded to the criticism of his movie’s casting and his explanation is…troubling. I offer a response here.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and editor based out of Atlanta (but it’s still WHO DAT all day). He’s currently an editor at Moguldom Media whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, CNN Money, The Source, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the Internet. He’s a New Orleans Press Club award recipient and has been cited in Best Music Writing. He’s also a proud alum of Davidson College.