I find it confounding and disheartening that Hollywood continues to refuse to use actors of African descent to portray citizens of Ancient Egypt. Spike TV’s new miniseries “Tut”, which follows the saga of King Tutankhamun (played by Canadian actor of British-Indian descent, Avan Jogia) during his rise to power, does not break the mold as I would have hoped. Though the casting was nowhere as abysmal as was the case in Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, the use of actors of English, Indian and Mexican descent in prominent roles, did not sit well with me.
As Spike TV’s first return to scripted programming, this three-night six-hour miniseries is a coming-of-age story about a boy who is remembered in history as one of the greatest Pharaohs the world has ever seen. King Tut came to power in 1332 BC at nine years old, and was forced to marry his sister in order to ensure a pure bloodline. As history tells us, boy-kings rarely have any true power, as is the case with Tut. For a decade, he is shielded from real politics and decision-making by his advisor Ay (Ben Kingsley), military leader General Horemheb (Nonso Anozie), and the High Priest Amun (Alexander Sidding).
Desperate to become a leader who refuses to hide in the shadows, King Tut comes into his own just as Egypt is on the verge of collapse. While his closest advisors have been plotting against him, a rival tribe – the Mitanni (who are portrayed by dark-skinned Black actors) – has conspired against Egypt, and a deadly plague is quickly approaching Thebes. Tut realizes that he must take control of his kingdom, even if that means turning against his advisors.
While I felt that the series’ creators did themselves a disservice by neglecting to use more actors of African descent, especially in key roles, I wouldn’t entirely dismiss the work.
If you’re a fan of HBO’s “Game of Thrones”, you’ll appreciate the power struggle between King Tut and the men (and women) who surrounded him, it’s very much in the same vein as the high council at King’s Landing. Like “GoT”, Spike TV’s “Tut” has epic battle scenes, sultry romances, and even an incestuous story line between Tut and his Sister/Queen Ankhe. As Tut begins to open his eyes (and ears) to the world around him, he becomes aware of the conspiracies against him, as well as his own inadequacies as a leader.
The scenery (thanks to the production design and cinematography) is lush, and especially astounding within the palace walls, which contrasts against the grime and grit that covers the city and villages surrounding it. “Tut” creators revel in detail and I imagine their depiction is how Ancient Egypt really looked. However, one thing I found troubling (which also seemed to be a theme on “GoT” this past season) was the constant attack on women. Historically, Ancient Egyptian women were treated equally to men; they could even become Pharaohs in some cases. However in “Tut”, women are constantly assaulted, underestimated, or pitted against one another. I feel that the series would have been stronger had the creators broken the mold and not taken this trite route. This should have been an opportunity to actually depict more empowered female characters.
In spite of this, one of the brightest spots of the miniseries is Kylie Bunbury as Aunhad; a common woman Tut encounters after he sneaks out of the palace into the marketplace. The “Twisted” alum shines as the no-nonsense woman who brings the Pharaoh to his knees. Her smarts and wits are evidence that she is much more than she appears to be.
Also worth noting is “Game of Thrones” and “The Bible” fans will recognize Nonso Anozie. The powerful British actor plays General Horemheb who is a force to be reckoned with in Thebes. However, his attitude and bloodlust might lead to his own demise.
Admittedly, it took some effort on my part to really become absorbed into “Night One” of the miniseries. “Tut” lacks the grandeur and incredible writing and dialogue of shows like “Game of Thrones” and “The Tudors.” Because of its short running-time, I truly expected a show of comparable magnitude. “Tut” has all of the makings for a powerful re-entry into scripted programming for Spike TV, unfortunately the series falls short, giving it more of a soap opera feel, than the epic saga that I’d hoped for.
“Tut” is a 3-Night Event that begins this Sunday, July 19th at 9ET on Spike.
Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read more of her writing at Bustle.com or on her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com. Feel free to tweet her @midnightrami