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Australian actor Joel Edgerton has said he “empathizes” with critics of his new film, Exodus: Gods and Kings, who accuse director Ridley Scott of “whitewashing” African history in the casting of the biblical epic.
Edgerton stars in Exodus as the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses the Great. The film also stars light-skinned actors Christian Bale as Moses, Aaron Paul as Joshua and Sigourney Weaver as Ramses’ mother, Tuya.
That has outraged many online, with critics accusing director Scott and the film’s producers of “cinematic colonialism” by casting white actors to play African figures. A Twitter campaign, #boycottexodusmovie, is calling on fans to boycott the would-be blockbuster, which Fox is releasing in the U.S. on Dec. 12.
The writer David Dennis Jr. blatantly calls Scott’s casting of Exodus “racist,” pointing out, “Not only are all the main characters white, but the servants, thieves and assassins are played by Africans.”
Speaking to Australian broadcaster SBS on the closing night of the Melbourne International Film Festival, Edgerton addressed the boycott, saying he was “sensitive to it and I do, I do understand and empathize with that position.” He added that as an actor, “it’s not my job to make those decisions…I got asked to do a job, and it would have been very hard to say no to that job.”
Critics of the Exodus casting see it as a part of consistent whitewashing of African stories and history by Hollywood. The biblical story of Exodus, the Old Testament tale of how Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the promised land, has previously been told in the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille classic The Ten Commandments. That film also starred two white actors: Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Ramses.
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