Leonardo DiCaprio lined up to play Afghanistan poet Jalaluddin al-Rumi sparks Whitewashing outcry.
The Oscar-winning writer of Gladiator has sparked an international whitewashing controversy after saying he wants Leonardo DiCaprio to play Persian poet Jalaluddin al-Rumi in a new movie about his life.
David Franzoni told the Guardian that he hopes to “challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslims characters in western cinema” by giving “a face and a story” to the scholar whose poetry is read around the world and remains “hugely popular” in the United States.
However, while Franzoni and producer Stephen Joel Brown’s plans to explore 13th century poetry have been praised, their decision to cast white Hollywood actors in the lead roles has been met with frustration, anger and disappointment. While filming is not likely to start until next year, Franzoni and Brown intend to approach DiCaprio and Robert Downey Jr. for the parts of Rumi and Iranian mystic Shams of Tabriz respectively. This is the level of casting that were talking about, Brown said.
Needless to say this did not go over well on Twitter:
Constance Wu (@ConstanceWu) June 8, 2016
#RumiWasntWhite Hollywood has to stop casting white ppl as everyone
negariii (@empressnara) June 8, 2016
So, Idris Elba can’t play Bond because that is a white character but Leonardo DiCaprio can play Rumi. #RumiWasntWhite
Madiha Sajid (@madihasaj) June 7, 2016
In addition, protestors against the new Rumi have created a petition against the movie. Saying ”
This whitewashing would effectively strip Rumi of his identities as a Muslim and a migrant from modern-day Afghanistan. We have to let the producers know that we won’t support such a film.”
“While we spend a lot of time fighting on policies and the issues, we also know thatpopular culture that demonizes Muslims and folks from the Middle East plays a huge role in perpetuating Islamophobia.
And producers have no problem casting non-white actors for negative roles. For instance, this film will reportedly portray the Mongols as [rampaging] extremistsroles that will undoubtedly be filled by actors of color.”
The lack of diversity in movies is not a new issue. The Academy failed to nominate a single non-white actor in its leading Oscars categories for a second year in a row, whiel Marvel has came under fire for casting Tilda Swinton as a Tibetan karate master in Doctor Strange. In addition, the castings of Scarlett Johansson as Japanese character Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell and Zoe Saldana as the darker-skinned soul singer Nina Simone have sparked controversy in Hollywood.
During the Mongol invasion, Rumi was forced to flee his home in present-day Afghanistan. He traveled as a refugee through Baghdad, Mecca and Damascus before settling in Konya where he died as an old man. Last week, Franzoni and Brown traveled to Turkey to meet with experts and build credible and identifiable profiles of the characters from Islamic mythology.
Were trying to invent and resurrect a character at the same time because there is so much missing in the shadow of history, and some of it is idealised so you have to go back and find the human being who became a saint, because we cant write, said Franzoni.
The movie is expected to focus on Rumi’s teachings and meeting swith Shams, who mysteriously disappeared and inspired a lot of the poetry.
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