The Ridley Scott film, “Exodus,” is being banned in countries across the Middle East. The film, which has been criticized widely for its whitewashing, has now been pulled in Morocco, Egypt and the UAE. However, the reasons being given for the film’s ban all seem to be different.
For instance, in Egypt the Cultural Minister Gaber Asfour said he had issues with it being a “Zionist film” which showed Egypt’s Jewish community building the pyramids, something Egypt says is far from the truth and promotes a Zionist agenda.
In the UAE, Director of Media Content Tracking at the National Media Council, Juma Obeid Al Leem, lambasted the film for misrepresenting Islam and the other religions the film portrays.
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In Morocco, different film houses were told personally that the film should not be screened because it contains a scene where God is represented by a child during a conversation with Moses. Depictions of God are forbidden within Islam. However, this decision came after it was let through by Moroccan authorities. In an interview with AFP some film house owners and distributors were told by phone that they had to pull the film immediately. Some were incensed by the news, with one telling reporters, “I hate censorship.” Yet most cinema managers agreed to respect the decision by the Moroccan Cinema Centre.
“Exodus” has come under much scrutiny around the world not only because of the way it presents the ancient world, but the actors who were chosen to play the parts. Despite the movie taking place in ancient Egypt, the actors and actresses portraying the characters are almost all white. Christian Bale plays Moses, while Joel Edgerton plays the Pharaoh Ramses, Sigorney Weaver plays Queen Tuya and Aaron Paul plays Joshua. As it has been noted in numerous op-ed pieces, most actors of color were relegated to slaves and background characters.
Ridley Scott replied to these criticisms by saying that he’d never get the filmed financed if he had to rely on (and this is a direct quote), “Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such.”
This point as taken up by writer Rebecca Pahle at Pajiba, who wrote a scathing response to Scott’s excuses, “Joel Edgerton, excellent actor though he is, is not a box office draw. His name does not sell movies…there is a point to be made about how Hollywood is an inherently racist institution, and that sucks, and sometimes you have to make compromises for your movie to be considered marketable. I guess. But I’m sorry—I just don’t have much sympathy here, maybe because most of the movies that have whitewashed in recent years were just kind of… bleh, or worse than bleh. Just tell a good story.”
The ministries and boards which have banned the film in Morocco, Egypt and the UAE have been fairly vague about their reasoning for not releasing the picture. Because of this, it’s hard to speculate whether the whitewashing of the characters played any role. However, it is rare for a film of this caliber to be banned within these countries.
It can be a difficult balance to portray historical figures that certain religious groups hold sacred, and create a compelling and realistic narrative that respects the various cultures involved. However, it seems that “Exodus,” which has been lambasted by critics for its lack of emotional resonance and clunky writing, has failed on all accounts. Such lazy film making, combined with an obtuse historical reverence, have clearly failed to entice a global audience.