In an unusual move for a major studio, Lionsgate has opted to get ahead of bad press about the thoroughly whitewashed cast of its forthcoming Egyptian fantasy-epic Gods of Egypt by issuing a public apology – months before the pricey flick is due to hit theaters.
In an official statement, the studio admitted it understood and agreed with criticisms of the Alex Proyas-directed tentpole, writing:
“We recognize that it is our responsibility to help ensure that casting decisions reflect the diversity and culture of the time periods portrayed. In this instance we failed to live up to our own standards of sensitivity and diversity, for which we sincerely apologize. Lionsgate is deeply committed to making films that reflect the diversity of our audiences. We have, can and will continue to do better.”
Proyas, speaking to Forbes, voiced similar regrets about the casting of predominantly white actors in a movie set within an African country and populated by Egyptian humans and deities:
“The process of casting a movie has many complicated variables, but it is clear that our casting choices should have been more diverse. I sincerely apologize to those who are offended by the decisions we made.”
To some degrees, these mea culpas are just talk – Gods of Egypt is still going to hit theaters next year sporting a painfully white cast, and the film will stand as a massive example of Hollywood’s continued failure to cast actors from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds in blockbuster films.
Still, the public apology marks a significant departure from major studios’ typical “artistic license” excuses – last year, Ridley Scott courted criticism for saying, rather bluntly, that casting big-name actors was key to getting funding in place for Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Joe Wright ignited another firestorm by defending Rooney Mara’s casting as Tiger Lily in Pan by essentially saying that his film was diverse in other places. Both directors’ statements didn’t sit well with critics by nature of them basically sticking with the time-honored Hollywood tradition of saying, “This is my movie, so it’s my choice, take it or leave it.”
Across the board, directors and studios are much more likely to try to justify whitewashing and racebending than to apologize for it. From Prince of Persia and The Last Airbender to Aloha and Stonewall, it’s an unfortunate fact that many studios just screw up diverse casting again and again. But what’s interesting about Gods of Egypt is that the studio seems to at least be promising to try to do better in the future.
Will that vow will have any discernible impact on Gods of Egypt‘s box office? Not at all. And anyone who saw the first trailer for it is likely none too bullish about the movie’s financial prospects anyway. But hey – if Lionsgate and Proyas felt enough pressure to publicly apologize for their decisions, at least that means years of backlash against whitewashing seems to be finally yielding results, and that’s pretty terrific to see.