'Gods of Egypt' backlash: Director, studio apologize for racial miscasting

Will 2015 be remembered as the beginning of the end of racial miscasting in movies?

Following outcry — and often apologies — over casting choices this year in "Aloha" and "Pan," the studio and director behind the upcoming fantasy epic "Gods of Egypt" have issued mea culpas for choosing an almost all-white cast to portray Egyptian deities in the movie.

"The process of casting a movie has many complicated variables, but it is clear that our casting choices should have been more diverse," director Alex Proyas said in a statement. "I sincerely apologize to those who are offended by the decisions we made."

Lionsgate, the studio behind the movie, which is set for release Feb. 26, issued its own statement: "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."

The movie came under fire earlier this month when Lionsgate released posters featuring the film's stars, including Irish actor Gerard Butler and Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau playing warring gods. The release of the trailer four days later further raised the volume of outrage on social media sites.

"Movie, #GodsOfEgypt in which everyone is white?" tweeted Bette Midler. "Egyptians, in history and today, have NEVER been white. BRING BACK GEOGRAPHY!! It's Africa!"

Earlier this year, filmmaker Cameron Crowe caught flak for casting actress Emma Stone as an Asian American character in his romantic comedy "Aloha." Crowe eventually apologized on his website, writing, "I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice."

The release last month of Joe Wright's "Pan," the big-budget retelling of J.M. Barrie's classic story, renewed the casting controversy when actress Rooney Mara was chosen to play a Native American character, Princess Tiger Lily.

"I totally sympathize with why people were upset and feel really bad about it," Mara told People magazine.

Both "Pan" and "Aloha" flopped at the box office, as did Ridley Scott's biblical epic "Exodus: Gods and Kings" last year. Scott's movie, like "Gods of Egypt," was blasted for having a predominately white cast, including Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver.

Scott defended the casting, asserting that it was born from the need to secure financial backing.

"I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such," Scott told Variety. "I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up." Later, at the premiere, he told critics to "get a life."

But while some filmmakers find it challenging to accurately represent the racial melting pot of the past, director J.J. Abrams had little trouble imagining an inclusive future in the upcoming "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

Abrams cast black actors John Boyega and Lupita Nyong'o and Guatemalan American actor Oscar Isaac in prominent roles, prompting condemnation from racist groups and praise from filmmakers like Ava Duvernay, who tweeted Saturday: "GODS OF EGYPT makes me value Abrams' STAR WARS choices more. Makes me cheer more for Coogler's CREED. We all deserve icons in our own image."

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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