Exodus: Gods and Kings Director: Ridley Scott
Screenwriter: Steven Zaillian
Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley 20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 | 150 Minutes
Release Date: December 12, 2014
Directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven), White Egypt stars Christian Bale as Charlton Heston and Joel Edgarton as Yul Brynner. An interpretation of the Book of Exodus, Scott’s Old Testament epic features historically accurate portrayals of Israelites and Egyptians who, as we all know, were white people.
The story begins in 1300 B.C.E, where Heston prepares to attack the Hittite army with Brynner. It is here that Brynner’s father, the great Pharaoh of Brooklyn (Seti I, played by John Turturro) tells the two men of a prophecy in which one will save the other’s life and become a great leader. During the battle, Heston saves Brynner’s life, leaving both men questioning their place in White Egypt.
Heston is sent to the city of Pithom to meet with Viceroy Nute Gunray (Ben Mendelsohn), who oversees the Hebrew slaves. Upon his arrival, he encounters the slave Joshua (Aaron Paul) and Gandhi (Ben Kingsley), who informs Heston of his true lineage: a Hebrew child raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter.
As a result, Heston is banished from White Egypt. In exile, the defiant Heston gets a steady job as a shepherd and starts a family. Nine years later, he has a vision of a burning bush and a mean little white boy viewers will recognize as God. The rest is (incredibly accurate) history. God sets loose ten plagues upon White Egypt while Heston leads 600,000 Hebrew slaves on a mass exodus through the desert.
I know what you’re saying, “I had no idea so many white people were thriving in the Nile Delta in 1300 BCE,” but scholars (aka film financiers) maintain that most people in the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia were, in fact, white. Bravo to Sir Ridley Scott for finally setting the record straight with his unflinching portrayal of biblical times – with all the diseased livestock, locusts, and child murder you can handle!
In 1956, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments defined the term “epic.” The 220-minute film was the highest grossing motion picture of that year, and would go on to outgross 1939’s Gone with the Wind. The film, which stars Charlton Heston as Moses and the Russian-born Yul Brynner as Rameses II, remains one of the most popular ever made – despite the inherent racism of an all-white cast portraying people of color.
58 years later, nothing has changed. Scott’s interpretation of Moses and the Exodus myth is dark and gritty, yet lily-white. When Variety asked Scott why he cast his Egyptian epic with Caucasian actors, he responded, “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such.”
My response is, if Ridley Scott – the director of films like Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down – can’t get a big-budget biblical epic financed with non-white actors, then maybe we don’t need another big-budget biblical epic. The fact that white actors play Egyptian royalty, while non-whites portray roles like “Egyptian lower class citizen” or “Egyptian thief,” is not only offensive; it’s irresponsible.
Scott has been quoted as being skeptical of religion, calling it “the biggest source of evil.” Where are his convictions? His adaptation involves little artistic interpretation and even less nuance – it doesn’t challenge the inaccuracies of the Bible or Moses’ story but instead embraces them while simultaneously revising history.
White Egypt is an underwhelming if not abysmal experience. The special effects used to bring Ancient Egypt and its fabled plagues to life are impressive, but the film never rises above its poorly written melodrama and hokey performances. It’s an empty film – a shallow spectacle that disrespects while it disengages.