Controversy trails 'Exodus' in journey to the screen
As Ridley Scott's 3-D epic Exodus: Gods and Kingsheads to theaters Friday, the controversy over the screen portrayal of the Moses story continues to simmer. Complaints about the mostly white cast and interpretation of the Old Testament tale have plagued the filmmakers. Scott has been repeatedly taken to task for his casting of the story centered around the ancient Egyptian enslavement of the Hebrews. Joel Edgerton portrays the pharaoh Ramses, John Turturro is the Egyptian ruler Seti and Christian Bale plays Moses. Actors of color are seen in mostly non-speaking roles. The discussion turned into a testy Twitter exchange last month. "Moses film attacked on Twitter for all white cast," Fox chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch tweeted. "Since when are Egyptians not white? All I know are." He later added: "There are many shades of color. Nothing racist about that, so calm down!" Even Edgerton acknowledges that critics provide "a valid argument. It's a conversation that needs to be had. I empathize with that point of view." The Jewish Daily Forward published an opinion piece by Sigal Samuel headlined "Why I'm boycotting the Exodus movie — it's racist." When asked about calls for a boycott, Scott told the Associated Press: "I say, 'Get a life.' " Some religious leaders have also expressed dismay as word about Scott's interpretation of the Old Testament tale has spread, including the portrayal of God as a willful boy played by 11-year-old British actor Isaac Andrews. "That's going to provoke a lot of controversy," says Rabbi David Baron of the Beverly Hills-based Temple of the Arts, who served as a consultant for the film. "(The filmmakers) made a calculated decision to follow through on that vision." "I did bring it to their attention" that the depiction departs from the biblical narrative, says Baron, who adds that the "controversy and conversation" could be beneficial. The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference says he'll be seeing Exodus and notes that there is "a lot of angst in the system" about the film. The situation is similar to Darren Aronofsky's Noah, which stirred controversy in the spring for its depiction of the Bible story, says Jeff Bock, box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "You don't mind some controversy when it opens, because it's getting press. But this movie isn't getting that press," says Bock. He predicts the heavily promoted film will make close to $35 million at the box office in its opening weekend and likely recoup its estimated $140 million budget with overseas business. Scott says he isn't concerned about the bottom line. "I never do films with the idea of how much money I'm going to make — I do films because I'm passionate about the subject," he says. "The content to me is the most important thing. What comes afterwards, if I cross my fingers and hope to get lucky, is that enough people like the film to justify me having made it."