Hollywood film meant to ‘challenge Muslim stereotypes’ might cast a white guy as Sufi poet Rumi

Published June 7th, 2016 - 05:35 GMT
Whirling dervishes, members of the mystical Sufi tradition of Islam that 13th-century Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi belonged to, perform their prayers in Istanbul.  (AFP/Gurcan Ozturk)
Whirling dervishes, members of the mystical Sufi tradition of Islam that 13th-century Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi belonged to, perform their prayers in Istanbul. (AFP/Gurcan Ozturk)

Oscar-winning screenwriter David Franzoni and producer Joel Brown have announced they’re gearing up for a major biopic on a character perhaps unfamiliar to Hollywood – beloved 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi. 

Their goal in producing the film? Franzoni and Brown want to challenge Hollywood’s stereotypical portrayals of Muslim characters, they told the Guardian.   

However, there’s one seemingly glaring problem with the film’s otherwise commendable goal – while producers concede that it is too early to begin casting the biopic, Franzoni and Brown say they want to hand the title role to American movie star Leonardo DiCaprio. 

Critics have already taken to Twitter to accuse the film’s producers of “whitewashing” a story  perhaps better portrayed by an actor of Rumi’s own background. 

 

 

The complaints aren’t unfounded.  Whitewashing of Hollywood flicks – when white, often famous, actors are chosen to portray nonwhite characters – has been rampant for quite some time.  In December, “Gods of Egypt” director Alex Proyas apologized after facing a storm of criticism for using a nearly all-white cast to portray Egyptian deities.  In 2014, another Egypt-themed film “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” directed by Ridley Scott, came under fire for its virtually all-white cast, which detracted from the story’s historical authenticity. 

Still, filmmakers of the upcoming Rumi biopic say they aim for a historically accurate celebration of the poet's life, telling the Guardian that "he's a character who has enormous talent and worth to his society and his people, and obviously resonates today."


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