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Despite the fact that Ridley Scott's new movie Exodus: Gods and Kings in largely set in ancient Egypt, you'll notice that the cast of lead actors is basically completely dominated by white dudes. Bringing the titular biblical story to life will be the likes of Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Ramses. Over the past few months, the movie has been dealing with a bit of controversy due to this aspect - some moviegoers claiming "whitewashing" - and as a result representatives for the movie, like Edgerton, have had to explain why the casting was handled the way it was. Now the film's director is finally weighing in with his point of view on the matter, and one of the ways he's doing so is by pointing at some interesting information about the real-life demographics of the story's setting.
Ridley Scott's comments come to us from Yahoo! Australia, where a Q&A with the filmmaker reveals why he felt the need to put together what is referred to as a "international cast." In his explanation, the Oscar-nominated director made note that that the country of Egypt at the time had diverse populace due to the fact that it was smack dab right in the middle of the growing world, between Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Said Scott,
"We cast major actors from different ethnicities to reflect this diversity of culture, from Iranians to Spaniards to Arabs. There are many different theories about the ethnicity of the Egyptian people, and we had a lot of discussions about how to best represent the culture."
That said, looking at other parts of the interview suggest that the idea of ethnicity perhaps didn't play that big of a role in Scott's mind when casting Christian Bale as Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings. Instead, the filmmaker said that he met the Welsh actor "four or five years ago" and that at that point they immediately knew that they wanted to work together. Scott thought of Bale for Moses when he began thinking about the character as being a larger than life figure who needed to be played as a "real person." Likewise, he says that he first saw Joel Edgerton work during tryouts for Kingdom of Heaven.
Had Ridley Scott been directly asked about not casting Middle Eastern actors to play Moses and Ramses his answers to questions about Bale and Edgerton may have been different, but what I gather from this interview is that the director wasn't really looking at race when he was finding his leads - he was just looking at talent. He likens putting the cast together as being similar to putting together a talented soccer team, saying that he requires strong partnerships. But is that enough of an explanation?