After reports emerged that recent Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio may be cast as Persian poet Jalaluddin al-Rumi in a biopic about the 13th-century poet, it sparked outrage from social justice warriors citing it as another example of Hollywood whitewashing.
Even though award-winning screenwriter David Franzoni and producer Stephen Joel Brown expressed the right intent for the biopic hoping to challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters in western cinema by charting the life of the great Sufi scholar, their apparent choices of cast got many on the internet furious as usual.
?It?s a very exciting project ? and obviously challenging,? Franzoni said. ?There are a lot of reasons we?re making a product like this right now. I think it?s a world that needs to be spoken to; Rumi is hugely popular in the United States. I think it gives him a face and a story.?
While it is important to note nobody has been officially cast, Franzoni and Brown told The Guardian they would like DiCaprio to play Rumi, and Robert Downey Jr to star as Shams of Tabriz, though adding it was too early to begin casting. ?This is the level of casting that we?re talking about,? said Brown.
However, the social media got riled up as it usually does with the politically correct crowd posting under #RumiWasntWhite which began trending on twitter. Many questioned why a white actor should be cast as Rumi who was one of the most-lauded Muslim poets in history. Others pointed out the makers? failure to consider Persian actors for the role. There were others who just had to bring in their religion as well asking why white christians got to play the good guys and muslim actors are usually cast to typically stereotypical roles.
According to the Independent, the lack of diversity in the film industry is certainly a controversial issue at the moment. The failure to nominate a single black actor in leading categories for the Academy Awards for the second straight year infuriated many at the Oscars 2016.
Marvel too has come under fire for casting Tilda Swinton as a Tibetan mystic in Doctor Strange. The casting of Scarlett Johansson as Japanese character Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell and Zoe Saldana as the considerably darker-skinned soul singer Nina Simone have also provoked fury.
The backlash isn?t much justified either as despite what many consider as whitewashing is actually rather pure business decisions as usually popular faces bring in more money to movie franchises, as well as the fact that certain actors are far more reliable for movie makers to consider them instead of going for diverse talents. While racism certainly does exist and indeed there is much that needs to be done to address this, the fact that white actors shouldn?t play colored roles is sort of reverse racism as well.