Gods of Egypt you done fucked up

Gods of Egypt is a Racist, Whitewashed Failure of a Movie

Gods of Egypt has been a problem since the final casting was announced and people started petitions against it. And yet Lionsgate Films and the director chose to ignore people’s upset over a whitewashed Ancient Egypt pantheon of gods. And now their movie is a big, fat financial bomb.

Good.

Serves them right.

When reviewers got ahold of this movie they tore it to shreds. It has a 13% score on Rotten Tomatoes (up from 10% a couple of days ago. Progress!). Everyone with sense is saying this movie is not funny haha cult following bad, it’s horrendous.

Charlie Jane Anders’ review on io9 is titled “Murder Is Legal and Torture Is Mandatory, Because Gods of Egypt Exists” and opens thusly:

The moment I walked out of a screening of Gods of Egypt, I set about building a massive throne out of human pelvises. I worked feverishly through the night, barely pausing to listen to the sounds of the city fracturing into seven brutal revels: a chainsaw maze, a great pit full of vengeful lobsters, a poisoned rave, and so on. As I climbed at last atop my pelvic majesty, I had a perfect view of the inundation of viscera that had turned the very streets into canals: For even if nobody else ever saw this movie, its very existence was enough to sunder every human relation for once and ever. There could be no language, no society, no kindness, after Gods of Egypt.

How did this happen? Why didn’t somebody involved with the creation of Gods of Egypt realize what they were setting in motion, and that this movie was not just bad, but obscenely, devastatingly bad?

There are so many wonderfully funny bits in this review that I can’t quote them all. Here are a few more, but read the whole thing, please:

Gods of Egypt has been justly criticized for its policy of casting white people as almost all of its Egyptian characters—to the point where it might be the first movie whose director apologized months before it was released. But the casting is just one of the many problems that eat away at this movie, which seems to have fed slices of Egyptian cultural traditions into a typical Hollywood “Save the Cat Goddess” structure, to try and create something familiar and comfort-foody, with an exotic veneer.

…loosely based on Egyptian mythology, if the Egyptian gods were mostly white people who could turn into animal robots, sort of like Transformers.

…every few minutes, the movie asks us to care about stakes-raising weird ideas like …“Set has stolen the glowing blue brain of the only black person in the movie!”

…you don’t get the impression that any of the human characters actually worships these gods or considers them more than just oversized people with random powers.

But for the most part, Gods of Egypt feels like such an abdication of story, and such a bastardization of culture, that the only sane response is to abandon sanity, and enlist in the murder-police of the senseless new era.

Good.

Serves them right.

Some other reviewers also mentioned the whitewashing thing, but didn’t make it a central part of their review. Not like Scott Woods, who just went in with “Gods of Egypt is the most racist film ever“:

For the record, I’m going to spoil the shit out of this movie because a) you have no business seeing it even for free, and b) fuck this movie.

Gods of Egypt is the most racist film in the last one hundred years. It is the most diabolically conceived, politically incorrect, and unapologetically racist film since The Birth of a Nation (the 1915 white one, not the 2016 black one, and how cool is it that we have to clarify that now?). It is more racist than Song of the South and Soul Man, which is no small feat. It is more racist than Mississippi Burning, The Revenant, The Help and Dragonball Evolution. It is more racist than the eye-rolling Bringing Down the House and The Last Samurai. It manages to somehow be more racist than Blendedand Dances With Wolves. It is more racist than Dangerous Minds and its didn’t-bring-shit-to-the-party cousin, Freedom Writers. It is magically more racist than The Green Mile. It has unseated my standing favorite, The Lone Ranger, for most racist movie, and I thought Johnny Depp’s Tonto was going to get us to at least 2020.

Damn, son.

Here’s how Gods of Egypt beat the high score:

When you do something wrong and you don’t know any better, that’s a crime of ignorance. You don’t know or understand the ramifications of what you’re doing, or you’re too stupid to see how what you’re doing is wrong. Matchbox Twenty singer Rob Thomas joking that he drinks until he becomes a “black Australian” is a racist act borne out of his ignorance. He says he didn’t know about the history and politics of the association, fine, you’re ignorant (and racist). The KKK, on the other hand, is willfully ignorant. It is not a group of blissfully unknowing individuals. There is nothing accidental about their racism. They know that the things they do are uninformed and illegal and wrong. They just don’t care.

This is the way in which Gods of Egypt is racist: the filmmakers know that the film is wrong. Not historically inaccurate…flat-out wrong. They knew that people would gather and point out that it was wrong. They did not care that it was wrong. They made the film the way they wanted to make anyway.

And he’s not wrong. The director knew from jump what he intended to do. Perhaps he got a little worried at one point and called up Ridley Scott, who was in the final stages of filming another racist whitewashed epic set in Egypt, and asked “Should I abandon the idea of casting white people as leads in my movie?” and Scott probably said to him, “Nah, son. You can’t mount a film with that budget and say that your lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such.[1]

You need to go read all of Scott Woods’ review/essay as well, as he breaks down all the reasons why the racism, the whitewashing, and even the token casting of one brown dude is a huge and serious problem[2].

All of this is enough, really, to condemn Gods of Egypt for all time. And so I feel silly even mentioning this. But… it makes me mad that this movie messes up Egyptian mythology so badly.

Not even on the I’m Black And Ancient Egypt Is My Heritage level[3]. As a person who has studied mythology and other aspects of a few ancient cultures, it fills me with rage when media properties treat mythologies as interchangeable. The first time I saw the trailer for this trasheap of a movie, my second thought (after ‘goddamn whitewashing!’) was: Horus is not Odin, you douchcanoes.

After reading the plot summary on Wikipedia, I am even more enraged. Ra is not Odin, either (nor as terrible a father; what the hell). Set is not Hades. Hathor is not Aphrodite or Persephone. Horus IS NOT THOR FROM THE MCU. Egyptian Sphinxes do not tell riddles! The Egyptian afterlife is not Hell!

I think I discovered why all but one of the main characters in this movie are white. Because someone thinks that Egypt is in the suburb of Greece where the Norse gods come to visit on holiday[4].

Honestly, Egyptian mythology and cosmology is far more complex and less straightforward than Greek mythology seems from the myths most people know. And attempts to make it straightforward and just like the myths we know result in crap like this. It could be cool for some movie to attempt to translate some of that complexity to the screen. For someone to use film to show how Egyptian spiritual conceptions were quite different from the other folks in nearby regions.

This is too much to hope for, I think. Especially in light of the fact that white Americans still put tattoos of Ganesha on their bodies because that’s rad, dude, and Hinduism is a living religion.

It’s only a small consolation that this movie is going to bomb and the studio has lost massive money and the bad reviews will chase the director for a while and maybe make him cry on his pillow at night. Too bad a slew of shit reviews and the loss of money won’t be enough to stem the tide of racist whitewashing in Hollywood.

Footnotes

  1. This is based on Scott’s real life explanation of why he cast all white folks: “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. I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.” I am not making this up.[]
  2. Don’t read the comments. Here, I’ll summarize them for you: Egyptians are not Africans and never have been and anyone who thinks Egypt had black people in it is stupid and arglebargleN-word.[]
  3. Which, to be honest, is not where my feelings about Ancient Egypt are based. I mean, since I don’t have the ~luxury~ of being able to trace my ancestry back to any specific location on the African continent, I embrace all ancient African knowledge, art, and culture as being part of my in general heritage as a human person whose near ancestors came from the place. But I don’t think my 10 times great-grandfather was a Pharaoh or anything.[]
  4. Imma stop all you BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PTOLEMYS folks right here. Because while there is a ton of cultural crossover between Egypt and Greece and Macedonia and other cultures in the region, it was the distant past people who we collectively call Greeks who were influenced by Egypt first. Also, I do not mean to imply that the Greek peoples are white, only that the Western perception of Greeks, or at least Ancient Greeks, as white, is what drives the nonsense behind Gods of Egypt.[]

The Last Airbender’s Target Audience Thinks Whitewashing Is Wrong, Too

The Last Airbender's Target Audience Thinks Whitewashing Is Wrong, Too

I wish that M. Night would read this moving essay by a young Chinese American adoptee about how the whitewashing of The Last Airbender made her feel as both a fan of the show and as an Asian person. I wish he would read it and have to respond to her in person.

Avatar is important to me because it shows that Asians can be leaders and heroes as well as white people. I was born in China, and I like to watch something about Asian and Inuit culture because usually at school we don’t get to read about these cultures. It feels really good to see something about my birth culture along with other Asian and Inuit cultures so I can learn about them too. It feels important to me that there’s a series that doesn’t have stereotypes about Asian people.

I felt sad when I heard that the main characters in the movie were going to be played by white actors. I was crestfallen about that because I thought it showed a message that only white people could be heroes while the TV series says the exact opposite. I thought the movie wouldn’t look at all like the original Airbender series because white people would play the main roles and it wouldn’t be believable for me. I felt sad, insulted and furious all at the same time!

…it’s horrible to treat us like dirty laundry that needs to get bleached. We are human beings just like everybody else.

Sing it, sister.

Hat Tip: Racebending

Realms of Fantasy: Full Of Some Whitewashing You Don’t Care To Read About

Realms of Fantasy: Full Of Some Whitewashing You Don't Care To Read About

I know that pointing out RoF Fail is a little like kicking a puppy, but you know how it is when Nick Mamatas sends you a link clearly meant to induce blog-worthy rage — you just have to accommodate him.

So, LJ user torrain was reading the latest issue of Realms of Fantasy and didn’t get far before the facepalm reached epic proportions. Inside the magazine’s movie review of The Last Airbender ze found this awesomeness:

However, The Last Airbender has already caught flak for “whitewashing,” meaning, the casting of white actors (or actors who appear to be white) to play non-white characters, especially when those characters are heroic. It’s a hot-button issue that dredges up memories of images like Al Jolsen wearing black-face makeup. Of course, there are two sides to this coin. On one hand, whitewashing can feel insulting, disrespectful, and disappointing to movie-goers. Many may label it as politically incorrect. On the other hand, anyone who has run a casting call will tell you that when you find the right person for the role, something magical happens. Time seems to stop, and you feel as if the character comes to life right in front of your eyes. The character is no longer ink on paper; the character begins to live and breathe. It has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the individual human being reading for the part. Adding to the mix is the fact that some roles written for white people have been won by actors of color, and some roles written for men have been played by women. In other words, whitewashing isn’t a one-way street. It’s a difficult situation that places filmmakers between the goal of finding magic and not offending audiences. At the end of the day, most directors simply want to tell a good story.

There’s a lot of obvious fail going on here, and it’s hard to know where to begin, but I’ll start with this notion that “something magical happens” when the right person comes along for the role, even if that person is white and the character is not. Even if this was ever true somewhere in the world, it’s not true in this movie. Let’s quote Roger Ebert talking about the casting, specifically:

Shyamalan has failed. His first inexplicable mistake was to change the races of the leading characters; on television Aang was clearly Asian, and so were Katara and Sokka, with perhaps Mongolian and Inuit genes. Here they’re all whites. This casting makes no sense because (1) It’s a distraction for fans of the hugely popular TV series, and (2) all three actors are pretty bad. I don’t say they’re untalented, I say they’ve been poorly served by  Shyamalan and the script. They are bland, stiff, awkward and unconvincing.

Entertainment Weekly:

The trouble with The Last Airbender is that Aang, as a character, is a saintly abstraction (Noah Ringer plays him with a sensitive pout that grows cloying), and he’s surrounded by generic young actors who are like place holders for real stars.

Variety:

Shyamalan has worked wonders with child actors before, but Ringer is no Haley Joel Osment, delivering some fancy footwork but zero charisma in the pic’s key role. Most dialogue scenes are framed in tight Sergio Leone-style closeup, emphasizing the actors’ wooden nature. At that proximity, we notice that Rathbone never blinks; nor can he be counted on to deliver any of the comic relief of his animated counterpart.

I could go on. The issue here is not that M. Night just happened to find these amazing kids to play these roles who just happened to be white. This is what he or the producers or the studio set out to do from the beginning because, even though millions of people love the cartoon and its clearly Asian characters, they felt that audiences just can’t handle brown and yellow people as the heroes. As the evil villains, sure. But protagonists must be white, right?

Whitewashing, no matter how much you pretty it up with the magical casting feeling of amazingness, is still just damn wrong.

The second half of that paragraph, which you probably didn’t even read because the first part was so rage-inducing with its faily wrongness, I shall paste again, because it also needs addressing:

Adding to the mix is the fact that some roles written for white people have been won by actors of color, and some roles written for men have been played by women. In other words, whitewashing isn’t a one-way street. It’s a difficult situation that places filmmakers between the goal of finding magic and not offending audiences. At the end of the day, most directors simply want to tell a good story.

Jesus. Okay, deep breath. First of all, the conceit of having women play roles written for men is usually about deconstruction more than it’s about some magical audition process or someone being “right” for a role. And I can’t come up with any examples of people of color playing roles “written for white people” unless you’re talking about classical theater or something. Maybe they mean Sam Jackson as Nick Fury? But again, when POC play, uh “white” roles, that actually has a different weight and purpose behind it than whitewashing. The power differentials there are NOT equal. Are POC overrepresented in Hollywood movies and American television? No. Are white people? Yes. So when whitewashing occurs, do you know who it hurts and disrespects and diminishes? POC.

The fact that this Realms columnist doesn’t understand any of this is already major fail. The fact that his or her editor doesn’t understand any of this is even bigger fail. And it’s leading many people to question why they would even bother to save such a magazine from its impending cancellation when all they have to look forward to is a bunch of racefail in the non-fiction section.

I’m just going to bottom line it for you: Whitewashing is never okay no matter what. If you don’t agree, then you’re really too far gone to exist in polite and cultured society and perhaps you should do us all a favor and go back to the cave you most certainly crawled out of.

Is that too harsh?