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‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ and the Faith-Based Con

'Exodus: Gods and Kings' and the Faith-Based Con

Much of the controversy around Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” which opens in theaters on December 12, has been over the decision to cast white actors in the leading roles: Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Rameses, and Aaron Paul, John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Tara Fitzgerald, Ben Mendelsohn in supporting roles. But according to Faith Driven Consumer, the main obstacle to “Exodus'” success isn’t racial miscasting but Biblical inaccuracy. As the group’s Chris Stone told WND:

“The portrayal of God as a willful, angry and petulant child in ‘Exodus’ will be a deal breaker for most people of faith around the world,” said Chris Stone, the founder of the North Carolina-based consumer advocacy group Faith Driven Consumer.

“Christians, Jews and Muslims alike see this story as foundational and will find this false portrayal and image of God to be deeply incompatible both with scriptures and their deeply held beliefs.”

Stone goes on to cite a poll claiming that “68 percent of the American public is unlikely to see the movie if it’s not biblically accurate,” a statistic dutifully picked up by the Hollywood Reporter. As this detailed post shows, there are actually two sets of data, one from a poll conducted conducted in May where the number is actually 67 percent, one from a poll of self-identified “faith driven consumers” who rank “how accurately a movie reflects the Bible” as the primary factor in their choice of entertainment. (Most American say they go to church every Sunday, too, but they’re not the most honest self-reporters.)

Stone cites as proof that Darren Aronofksy’s “Noah” “left untold millions on the table” because of its purported inaccuracy, never mind that it made $352 million worldwide. But the bigger problem is the way Stone, and the faith-driven consumers he claims to represent, define “accuracy,” a word that has far less to do with scripture than it does with politics. By any measure, casting white Europeans as Egyptians and Middle Eastern Semites is inaccurate, but because that doesn’t mesh with the political agenda of conservative Christians in the United States, it’s passed over. Nor does it bear mention that Scott managed to find room for darker-skinned actors in the movie’s more villainous roles, including Indira Varma as Rameses’ sycophantic soothsayer and a pair of swarthy, crooked-nosed extras as Jewish traitors — surely a slur against the Old Testament’s chosen people should draw Biblical loyalists’ wrath — and that others, like Mendelsohn and the Danish Actor Dar Salim, are spray-tanned to match.

In practical terms, Scott is right to say he couldn’t make a film of “Exodus'” magnitude with “Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such,” but his contention begs the question of whether, or why, it needs to be made at all. The spectacular insensitivity with which he makes that observation extends all the way down the line: Bale’s name certainly means something to financiers, but does Edgerton’s, or Paul’s? Given the decision to portray the voice of God emanating from an 11-year-old child, is there any reason that child had to be a white British boy instead of, say, an African girl? If you’re going to blow up the demographics of ancient Egypt, why not go whole hog? 

Why aren’t people like Stone, who denounce the portrayal of God as a petulant child, worried about racism? (Or, for that matter, about such decidedly non-King Jamesian dialogue as “From an economic standpoint, what you suggest is problematic to say the least”?) And, for that matter, how does the American public’s overwhelming preference for “Biblically accurate” stories explain “Left Behind’s” piddling $13 million in ticket sales? Because, in spite of Stone’s apparently incessant references to himself as a “brand strategist,” he’s not selling strategy so much as a political point of view, one that claims success when a movie’s success of failure can be yoked, however tenuously, to its purported values, and goes suspiciously quiet when they can’t. 

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