8 Times Hollywood Whitewashed Arab Characters



Earlier this week, controversy was sparked when it was announced that Leonardo DiCaprio is likely to be cast as Rumi in the upcoming biopic on Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi by Oscar-winning screenwriter David Franzoni. Viewers spoke out about the casting choice since Rumi was Persian and because the casting of white actors for the roles of Arab characters is becoming increasingly common.


The creators of the movie responded by saying that the movie is meant to “challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters in Hollywood.”  The release of that comment is when things hit the roof and people took to Twitter to protest:







While DiCaprio is a great actor, the role just doesn’t seem fitting and it would make much more sense for the role to go to an actor from the region, especially because Arab actors are often underrepresented in Hollywood or are only put in roles that shed a negative light on the Middle East. Having an Arab actor play Rumi could actually help break many stereotypes and preconceived notions about the region.


This isn’t the first time a casting choice like this was made though, so we decided to make a list of times Hollywood whitewashed our people…




The Son of the Sheik (1926)




Whitewashing Arab characters is nothing new. Even way back in 1926, a Hungarian actress was cast as the Arab dancer Yasmin and the Sheik was played by Rudolph Valentino, an Italian-born American actor.





Lawrence of Arabia (1962)




Alec Guinness is an English actor. So why is it that the casting directors thought he was the best option for the role of Arab Prince Faisal?





Cleopatra (1963)




Cleopatra was Egypt’s last independent queen. And yes, we know she wasn’t really Egyptian and that she was Greek. But why in hell would Hollywood decide that Elizabeth Taylor, who is British-American, was the perfect person for the role?





Batman Begins (2005)




One of the main characters in Batman Begins is called Ra’s Al Ghul and he is of Arab origin. Liam Neeson, the actor for the role, certainly isn’t though.   





Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)




The casting of Jack Gyllenhall as the Prince of Persia was definitely a widely mocked casting decision. Gyllenhall isn’t exactly what comes to mind when someone says Persian.





Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)




I don’t even know where to start on this one. Christian Bale plays Moses, Joel Edgerton plays Ramses. The list goes on honestly. All of the characters are Middle Eastern yet none of the actors are.





Noah (2014)



The biblical epic Noah isn’t immune to whitewashing either: Australian actor Russell Crowe played the part of Noah for some obscure reason and American actress Jennifer Connelly somehow seemed like a viable option to play his wife.





Gods of Egypt (2016)




The whitewashing hasn’t ended, just this year makers of Gods of Egypt managed to make an entire movie about Egypt without casting a single Egyptian or even an Arab. Round of applause, please.



WE SAID THIS: Don’t miss out on Arabs in Hollywood Movies Vs. Arabs in Real Life.