Two years, two films set in ancient Egypt, two controversies over the fact that some or all of the top-billed actors are of European descent. But where Exodus: Gods and Kings director Ridley Scott simply shrugged off the boycotters, Gods of Egypt director Alex Proyas — and the studio behind his film — have decided to apologize.
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.
Meanwhile, Lionsgate issued a statement of its own, which wavers on the question of whether the casting should have reflected ancient Egypt or modern audiences:
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.
It’s worth noting that, while Exodus did feature white actors in all the major roles (with the quasi-exception of Ben Kingsley, who is half-Indian), it also featured actors of Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian and Palestinian descent as Egyptian royals and generals.
Gods of Egypt, for its part, went a step further and put black and Asian actors on the character posters that came out two weeks ago — but it is not clear whether North African or Middle Eastern actors will have any speaking parts within the film.
Exodus, which had a reported budget of $140 million, ended up underperforming at the box office, grossing only $65 million in North America and another $203.2 million overseas. Gods of Egypt reportedly cost $140 million as well, and it is telling a less familiar story and coming out at a less lucrative time of year — so the film is arguably in a more precarious position, box-office-wise. Thus, the studio’s response.
Time will tell whether the apologies issued today change any boycotters’ minds.