Gods of Egypt, the same old story

No, just, no.

No, just, no.

“Here we go again.”

That was the thought that tore through my mind when I saw the posters for “Gods of Egypt”. In typical fashion, the movie houses involved and casting decisions had placed the vast majority (five of six) of roles in the hands of white actors and actresses, with a token Black actor as Thoth. Coming rapidly on the heels of the Noah and Exodus, films lambasted for their whitewashing, this film carries on the long tradition of making POC white. I’ve talked about this in the past, and the problem remains as much as it ever has, but why, even with so much outcry? [1][2]

For one, the movie industry is deaf to the outcry. Despite credible and solid data indicating that the movie going public is not only ready, but demanding films that are diverse and historically accurate, they continue to tread the same old paths as before and use the same arguments and hollow apologies. The arguments being that they can’t “sell” a movie without star power, and the biggest stars are all white, therefore they just had to hire them over lesser know POC actors. Then, when they called out for it, they apologize profusely, and claim that they “never intended to offend”, or were “unaware that their casting choices were controversial”. At the end of it all, they claim they’ll try harder in future. And while they do all of this, they blithely continue to practice the same practices they always have. No change occurs though, because they don’t actually hear what’s being said.

What POC are demanding now, as they have for years now, is better representation in film and media, and more accurate representation in historical contexts. Rupert Murdoch famously commented after Exodus that all the Egyptians he knew were “white”. In the particular era that Exodus occurs in, few Egyptians would have been white. [3] It was still centuries away from the Greek and Roman influxes that would bring paler peoples into the Nile region in large numbers. In the estimated era that Exodus occurred in, and by extension, Gods of Egypt, the Egyptians portrayed themselves as reddish-brown, brown, and Black. An accurate self portrait of a people who spanned populations from the crossroads of North Africa and the Levant in the Lower Nile, and butted against the Black Kingdoms of Kush and Punt to the south of the Upper Nile.

Some have tried to argue, predictably, that the colour of the Gods doesn’t matter. After all, didn’t Idris Elba play a Norse God in the Thor series in the Marvel cinematic Universe? Again, I have to point out that it isn’t the same thing. Unless by that you mean that all the Gods are white except for one. In which case, yes it is the same thing. Digression aside, this is another example of a deliberate distortion that’s defended by that always fun aspect of modern racism, “colour blindness”. Colour blindness has become the new rallying cry to maintain the old status quo, which relentlessly whitewashed everything in the past and continues to do so today.

So what can be done? Immediately, not a lot more than things like this post and other critiques of the state of affairs we’re in. Long term though, there is something that can be done. Support POC headlined films. Boycott films like Gods of Egypt. As found recently, POC populations are the only growing cinema viewing demographic. Losing out on some income has, in the past, been a way to arrest and force change into systems like this. Keep making noise, and encourage your non-POC friends and allies to make noise too.