Is Exodus: Gods and Kings Racist in its Casting?

Ridley Scott’s latest film Exodus: Gods and Kings is generating a great deal of controversy. And the controversy getting the most attention is the racial one. White actors and actresses are cast in all the major roles. But, this isn’t the full extent of the problem. Yale University Professor Joel Baden explains: “What makes it worse for many observers is that, on the flip side, virtually every black actor in the movie is playing a part called ‘Egyptian thief’ or ‘assassin’ or ‘royal servant’ or ‘Egyptian lower class civilian.’” For those of us wishing for a more biblically accurate and racially sensitive film, it’s sad that Scott’s movie misses the mark.

First, we live in a beautifully diverse world, and to the extent possible, Hollywood needs to reflect this racial and ethnic diversity in its films and television programs. I recognize that, in some cases, it’s not possible to do this. No reasonable person, for example, can criticize the 2008 HBO miniseries John Adams for having a virtually all-white cast. The cast in the miniseries accurately reflected the racial demographics of the Colonial American lives the miniseries focused on. But where possible (such as in a film set in ancient North Africa), racial diversity should be reflected.

From a purely historical standpoint, it’s unlikely that Moses looked like Christian Bale (or, for that matter, Charlton Heston), though (being from a Hebrew family) we should acknowledge that his skin tone may have been lighter than many Egyptians. Does this mean it’s wrong to cast a white actor as Moses? No, but we must understand that casting American or European white actors as biblical characters from the Ancient Near East or Ancient Egypt is almost certainly a step away from historic authenticity. If we’re going to do that, then we must also be okay with the casting of black actors in some of those parts as was done with the role of Samson in the recent The Bible miniseries.

Most scholars agree that the Egyptian civilization attracted people from all over Africa and the Middle East. And the core of its population, while African, was made up of people from north and south of the Sahara. This would make Egypt a “melting pot” of sorts. From the standpoint of skin tone, you’d have a lot of variety in Ancient Egypt. And this variety, while reflected in the background (extras, small speaking parts, etc.) of Exodus: Gods and Kings, is not reflected with the major roles in Scott’s film, and that is the reason for the controversy.

For example, while Joel Edgerton does a fine job portraying Rhamses (or Ramses), he’s not exactly a big name actor. Thus, it’s difficult for me to see why Scott had to hire a white Australian to play an ancient Egyptian ruler as opposed to someone like Boris KodjoeMichael Ealy, or even Wentworth Miller. Edgerton gave a talented performance, so I mean no criticism of him personally. However, from a purely physical standpoint, the aforementioned three actors probably more closely resemble the actual Ramses of history more than Edgerton, regardless of his compelling performance in Exodus.

In spite of my disapproval of how Exodus: Gods and Kings handles race, hurling the “racist” label at Scott or the Exodus film is neither fair nor helpful. The fact is that it takes a lot of money to make a movie in Hollywood, especially one as grand as Exodus. That means raising money from investors, who look at casting purely with dollar signs in view. Investors care about one thing: getting a return on their investment. That means big name actors and directors. That means you not only wind up with Christian Bale as Moses, but you also get something of a momentum effect (all other cast choices are made with Bale in mind) as well as “tunnel vision” which ignores issues such as racial diversity or historical authenticity. That’s how Hollywood rolls. It’s sad, but it is what it is.

The solution to this problem isn’t name-calling (though I think the adjective “racially insensitive” certainly fits). The solution is:

  • Increasing the market/investment value of more non-white actors,
  • Tasking at least one person in the development process of each film or TV program to concentrate on racial diversity, perhaps not exclusively, but certainly as part of their overall responsibilities, and
  • Getting the movie-going public to care more about history and authenticity than simply about entertainment or watching a familiar and/or pretty face on screen. And, yes, as I type these words, I realize that’s a tall order. Hopefully, controversies like this one will help things along in a positive way.

As for whether we should watch Exodus in spite of the casting controversy, that’s a decision each person will need to make for himself or herself. For my own part, having seen the film, racially insensitive casting isn’t the only problem with Exodus. Not by a long shot. And I’ll have more to say about those other problems in a future blog post. On balance, I would not recommend Exodus, simply because it is neither historically nor (most importantly) biblically accurate. But I also won’t condemn anyone who chooses to see it. To do so would make me a hypocrite since I myself forked out $10 to see the film.

To close out this article, I will simply say this. I hope future biblical films will put more emphasis on historical authenticity and biblical accuracy. And, whenever possible, I hope they will reflect the diversity God has blessed us with. It’s true that Cecil B. DeMille’s beloved Ten Commandments likewise doesn’t reflect an appropriate level of racial diversity, but we’ve come a long way in scholarship, civil rights, and racial sensitivity since Charlton Heston’s turn as Moses. It’s unfortunate that Scott’s film doesn’t reflect this progress.

Washington Redskins Thanksgiving Controversy is Latest Example of PC Ridiculousness

According to the PC Police, the Washington Redskins aren't allowed to wish anyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

According to the PC Police, the Washington Redskins aren’t allowed to wish anyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

In the latest row over the controversy surrounding the multi-decade Washington Redskins name and brand, the DC area based NFL franchise is under fire for wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. That’s right. A Happy Thanksgiving greeting over social media from the Washington Redskins was too much for many in our postmodern, super-sensitive, politically correct culture to handle. And I must ask, When is this nonsense going to stop?

For those of you who don’t know, the Washington Redskins put out a simple Thanksgiving greeting over Twitter yesterday, since yesterday was…well…Thanksgiving. The tweet read: “From our family to yours, have a very safe and Happy #Thanksgiving. #HappyThanksgiving #HTTR” and featured a graphic, complete with Redskins colors and the Redskins logo and the prominent greeting “Happy Thanksgiving.” Seems rather well-intentioned, right?

Virtually every other NFL franchise wished their respective communities and fans a Happy Thanksgiving, and their respective team names and logos were prominently displayed on all those greetings. But when the Redskins do the same, flames of controversy erupt — fanned of course by self-appointed members of the PC police throughout our society.

You see, in the “enlightened” mindset of our ridiculously politically correct society, the Washington Redskins aren’t allowed to wish anyone a Happy Thanksgiving, at least not so long as they retain the current name and brand. Says The Los Angeles Times: “The team, which features a highly controversial name and logo, seems to have picked the absolute worst day to bring attention to themselves.” Writing for Yahoo!, Jordan Chariton explains the tweet was “salt on Native American wounds on Thanksgiving” since “many Native Americans consider the day one of mourning, as many were slaughtered or traded as slaves by the English men and women who came over.”

We are so immersed in postmodernist relativism and conditioned in our society today to be driven by feelings and emotions rather than facts and logic that we’ve more or less blindly accepted the premises underlying political correctness. It’s clear that those offended by the Redskins’ Thanksgiving tweet see things the way Jordan Chariton does, but that’s the problem! Note how many assumptions are made within that statement. Let’s examine some of these assumptions, shall we?

First, Thanksgiving (as we celebrate it today) most certainly does NOT represent or honor the slaughtering of Native Americans or their being traded away into slavery. When families celebrate Thanksgiving today, they are not celebrating any sort of “genocide” of Native Americans. They are expressing their gratitude to God and to their loved ones for all the things for which they have to be thankful.

Second, the reader doesn’t get to determine the meaning of a statement. One of the biggest and most reprehensible lies of postmodernism is that language is inherently relativized (and its meaning is essentially determined) by the reader. That’s nonsense! And it’s dangerous! The author determines the meaning of a text. It’s the responsibility of the reader to discern what the author meant, not what the reader thinks or wants the author to mean or what he or she accuses the author of meaning. The author should determine the meaning of a text…period! Therefore, the Washington Redskins Thanksgiving tweet is properly offensive, on its merits, if and only if the Redskins intended for it to be offensive. (This same line of reasoning, by the way, applies to the name itself. If the NFL football franchise chose the name ‘Redskins’ in order to slur or denigrate Native Americans, then it’s offensive – and they should change the name. Otherwise, no real, authentic offense has taken place – except in the minds of those who choose to misinterpret the intent of those who named the team in the first place).

Third, why do we continue to see the world divided up by race? Why? Why? Why? Why do we one-dimensionalize Native Americans and white Americans. The truth is that many Native Americans were good people, and many were not. And likewise, many of the white settlers who came to the New World were good, and many were not. Why do we keep stereotyping people and dividing people up by race? In the years following European settlement in the New World, there were atrocities committed by both sides. Why? Because we’re dealing with a diverse array of people. Not all white people are the same. Not all Native Americans are the same. People are different. They are unique.

Fourth, even if you’re going to look at everything through the racial lens, it’s a fact that the Native American population was NOT decimated by genocide, but by disease. That so many Native Americans perished from diseases borne by European settlers to the New World is a catastrophic tragedy of epic proportions, but it’s no more “genocide” than the Black Plague which wiped out nearly a third of Europe’s population. That plague came from Asia. Was it a tragedy? Absolutely. Was it genocide? Hardly.

Finally, even if you wish to adopt the twisted perspective of a Howard Zinn, Ward Churchill, or Noam Chomsky when it comes to our history, the current NFL franchise named the “Redskins” is not responsible for disease, violence, forced relocations, or broken treaties. Rather, the Washington Redskins (according to team owners, past and present) are so named to honor Native Americans. That’s right, the same group that decries the mistreatment of Native Americans tends to be the same people today outraged over a football franchise that’s actually trying to honor Native Americans! If you can let that sink in, you’ll realize how screwed up we’ve gotten as a society thanks to postmodernist political correctness. If the PC police want to right past wrongs, then move to establish reparations or to change Columbus Day. I may not support those initiatives, but at least they make sense! But there’s no good reason to go after a NFL franchise that’s trying to honor Native Americans.

It’s time we put down the Howard Zinn history lessons, ditch postmodernist relativism for the bankrupt philosophical system that it is, and let people (and teams) speak for themselves! If the Washington Redskins genuinely wish to honor Native Americans with their name and logo, then give them the benefit of the doubt. And if they decide to wish their fans a Happy Thanksgiving, we should accept such a greeting for the genuinely sincere intentions that are behind it.

The Duty of All Nations: George Washington’s Thanksgiving Devotional

On October 3, 1789, George Washington, President of the United States of America, issued the nation’s first Thanksgiving Day presidential proclamation, declaring November 26, 1789 to be the day Americans should observe as Thanksgiving. This proclamation was issued at the request of Congress and it would later form the basis of our modern Thanksgiving Day holiday.

The words Washington chose to pen his Thanksgiving Proclamation are similar to words one would find in any Christian devotional today. Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, in fact, reads as much like a Christian devotional as it does an official government document. In his Proclamation, Washington declares it to be a global duty that people everywhere ”acknowledge the providence of Almighty God…obey His will, …be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” These are sentiments one hears commonly from the pulpit — sentiments all of which should put into practice.

As you celebrate this year’s Thanksgiving with your loved ones, I encourage you to consider Washington’s exhortation. May we apply his wisdom to our own hearts and practices. Here is the text of Washington’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation….

 ***

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

Maryland School District Removes Religious References from School Calendar: A Terrible (but Predictable) Decision

Montgomery County coat of armsRecently, the School Board in Montgomery County, Maryland made the terrible (but not unpredictable) decision to strip the school calendar of any reference to religious holidays. This “politically correct” decision, one that makes secular left-wingers everywhere grin with glee, is not surprising coming from one of the most liberal counties in the United States. But it nevertheless represents the exact opposite course our public schools should be following when it comes to sensitive subject areas like religion.

Since prayer was banned from public schools by an activist U.S. Supreme Court in the early 1960s, the United States has experienced a growing trend of religion being forcibly removed from the public square. The decision of the Montgomery County (Maryland) School Board to expunge all references to religious holidays, including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Christmas, and Easter, is yet another example of this sad trend.

Unfortunately, many Christians are today blaming the wrong people for it. Several Christian and/or conservative bloggers are attacking Muslims for driving this decision. Even some of my Facebook friends are getting in on the act. It would be incredibly unfortunate if this terrible decision by the Montgomery County (Maryland) School Board resulted in anti-Muslim bigotry. Folks, the Muslims are not to blame!

While the Montgomery County School Board’s decision was due to a year-plus long effort by the Muslim community, it was not the wish of Muslim students, parents, or community leaders to strip away all references to religious holidays. In fact, Muslims are now being quite critical of the School Board’s decision. They simply wanted their holy days included on the calendar as well. That is not an unreasonable request, given the racial, cultural, and religious diversity in Montgomery County.

I realize some of my readers favor the “Christian nation” argument for America that would give preference to Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, but (setting that particular narrative aside – one we can explore later) our Founders believed in religious freedom. And Christians should be at the forefront of the fight for religious freedom. That means freedom for all genuine and authentic religious faith groups, including Muslims. It’s perfectly reasonable that Muslim students and their families would desire some acknowledgment and accommodation for their beliefs and practices.

The Montgomery County School Board had a golden opportunity to lead the country in demonstrating respect for the scope and diversity of its student population by acceding to the Muslim community’s request. Doing so would have allowed Jewish and Christian students and their families to continue to enjoy the acknowledgment of their holy days. It would have been a win-win-win. Instead, the Montgomery County School Board went the other direction, showing disrespect or (at the least) disregard for the culture and sensitivities of all faith groups represented in their student population.

I realize some readers may ask “Where does it stop?” Should schools close for every single religious holiday of every single faith? The answer is of course “no,” and the criteria for such decisions should be made based on demographic realities. Montgomery County, as with virtually all public school systems throughout America, will continue to schedule days off and seasonal breaks around religious holidays. Why? Because they know that virtually no student or teacher will show up on December 25 if classes are held that day. Each school district therefore needs to make common sense decisions, based on the demographics of their respective community, whether closing school on certain religious-oriented holidays is necessary or appropriate. And if the decision is to close, then there’s no harm in acknowledging why the school is closing that day. In fact, to not acknowledge the reason is an exercise in extreme (and frankly ridiculous) political correctness – not to mention laughable awkwardness.

Rather than avoid the mention of religion, our schools should freely and openly acknowledge the presence and influence of religion in American life. And each school district should celebrate, not avoid, the diversity in its community. A school calendar that specifically mentions the religious holidays observed by its students demonstrates an appreciation and respect for its students and their families as well as a confidence on its own part to embrace, rather than avoid, the learning opportunities available due to such diversity. And isn’t that what our public schools should be doing — or did I miss something?

We Should Honor our Veterans (and not just on Veterans Day)

GW Veterans DayFor those of us living in the United States, today (November 11) is Veterans Day. It is a day our nation has set aside to honor all those men and women who served in the armed forces during times of war. To steal a line from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, it is “altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

The eleventh of November originally marked the day our nation honored those who fought in the Great War (otherwise known as “the war to end all wars”). When World War II came around, it became readily apparent that the Great War (aka World War I) was not the “war to end all wars.” Congress later changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day to recognize all our veterans from all our wars, even those conflicts which preceded World War I.

It shouldn’t take an official holiday, however, for us to reflect on the debt we owe our veterans. We should honor our veterans every day of the year, not just on Veterans Day. Without those men and women who have served in times of conflict, our nation would not be the free and prosperous nation it is today. We indeed owe them a debt of gratitude we can never adequately repay.

God bless our veterans.