Hollywood is coming under target yet again after rumours emerged that Leonardo DiCaprio is to play Jalaluddin al-Rumi, the prolific 13th century Persian poet.
David Franzoni – the Oscar winning writer of Gladiator – caused outrage after saying he wanted the white actor to play the Middle-Eastern poet. Somewhat ironically, Franzoni had previously stated that he wanted to ‘challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters in Western cinema’.
Many are arguing, however, that by casting a white man in such a role, he is only promoting a white-washed version of history. A history in which it is the white man that comes out on top.
Described as the Persian equivalent of Shakespeare, Rumi’s poetry continues to be popular even today. In fact, in 2014, he was America’s best selling poet.
Since the announcement, over 14,000 people have signed a petition against the casting. The casting joins yet a long list of dubious casting choices which have featured white actors playing roles of ethnic backgrounds. Other criticised casting choices include John Wayne as Genghis Khan, Johnny Depp as Tonto and Disney even cast Jack Gyllenhaal as a Persian Prince after smothering him in spray tan.
Following the #oscarssowhite dabte, in which not a single black actor received an Oscar nomination, and the increasing controversy around whitewashing casting choices, you would have thought film makers would have learnt to avoid such errors.
But with controversy comes publicity. The hashtag, #rumiwasntwhite trended on Twitter, with comments like:
Whether or not DiCaprio gets confirmed as the Sufi poet is yet to be seen, but what is for certain that it can’t be long until Hollywood’s race-row reaches a boiling point.
Or, as one Twitter user more bluntly put it:
Words by Juliette Rowsell