This cinematic disregard of diversity, authenticity, and inclusion by director Alex Proyas has aroused swarms of controversy on social media—and deservedly so. And the studio’s apology for this act of cultural piracy is insufficient to assuage the brewing furor. One could not imagine Hollywood attempting to make a movie about ancient India or imperial China with a nearly all-Caucasian cast. Consider this: what if the Academy-award winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was produced with a cast predominantly of European ancestry? One could anticipate the outcries that would be forthcoming for such a Eurocentric repainting of historical fact. That is probably why one commentator on social media suggested that Gods of Egypt should be renamed “Gods of Scotland.” Nevertheless, this upcoming movie release may have some intrinsic merit, after all.
The production, which was filmed in Australia and has been released by the motion picture company Lionsgate, tells the mythic tale of the conflict between Set, the god of chaos, and his nephew Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris. This is probably the first time that Egyptian myth has been explored in a major film. Contrast that with the numerous occasions that tales of the Greek Olympians and the exploits of Heracles (aka, Hercules) have been depicted in cinema and on television. Think of Clash of the Titans and its sequel, Wrath of the Titans. When we consider the influence that ancient Egypt had on Greek civilization, it is refreshing to finally see Egypt have its day in the sun in a plot that doesn’t involve mummy curses or Cleopatra. By the way, that legendary female monarch was Greek and ruled Egypt millennia after its greatest days had passed. (As a side note, African-Americans who want to believe that Cleopatra was black should disabuse themselves of that notion. Focus your energies on reclaiming the earlier periods of Egyptian history before Egypt was conquered and ruled by Alexander the Great and his heirs.)
It is because of the seminal influence of Egyptian culture on ancient Greece (and Western civilization) that I welcome an effort to recreate its myths on the silver screen. I will defer judgment on the authenticity of its adaptation of Egypt’s mythology—and Nile River culture—until I see the film. So, I suggest that others should hold their noses, buy a ticket, and join me in watching the movie—and then voice your criticisms on social media. Otherwise, if the movie does bomb at the box office, it will be too easy for the high priests of Hollywood to hide behind the excuse that the modern public has no interest in Egyptian culture. The success of the Tutankhamun exhibit that traveled to the U.S. in 2005 proved that American audiences retain a fascination for the land of the pharaohs. They could have the same fascination with Egypt’s legends—if they are done right.
However, while we should allow a smidgen of literary license for the craft of movie-making, the history of an African people should never be whitewashed. Alexander Proyas reportedly was born in Alexandria, Egypt to Greek Egyptian parents. He is unquestionably a talented director with fantasy films such as The Crow and I, Robot on his resume. However, he would have done film-making a better service if his casting decisions were shaped more by homage to his Egyptian heritage than his Greek ethnicity. Alexander the Great co-opted Egyptian civilization millennia ago; Egypt does not need a later Alexander to repeat the disservice. – Geronimo Redstone, author of The Bachelor Scrolls – Isis Unleashed (2nd edition).