‘Exodus’ Director Ridley Scott Explains Controversial Casting Decision

The main characters in the Biblical adaptation, set in Egypt, are all played by Caucasian actors

Thousands of people aren’t happy with “Exodus: Gods and Kings” director Ridley Scott‘s decision to cast all white leads as Egyptians in the upcoming Biblical drama, but there’s a method to his madness: He just really likes Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton.

When asked to expand on his self-described “careful” casting of the 20th Century Fox Dec. 12 release, Scott told Yahoo he knew Bale “was the right actor for the role” of Moses.

Also read: 9 Burning Fall Movie Questions: Will ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ be Blessed? Who Will Grinch Flinch?

“I was thinking about the idea of ‘Exodus’ and Moses being this kind of larger-than-life character who, at the same time, has to be played definitively as a very real person, that I thought of Christian and I knew he was the right actor for the role,” Scott said. “It’s not a fantasy. Ramses certainly wasn’t a fantasy and somewhere Moses is very much written down and indicated and believed. So it’s a real thing.”

As for Edgerton, who plays Egyptian pharaoh Ramses, Scott had his eye on the actor since he auditioned for 2005’s “Kingdom of Heaven.”

Also read: Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett Join Warner Bros. ‘Jungle Book’

“Joel had read for me for ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and I really liked him,” Scott said. “He sent me a tape at the time, out of the blue, and I watched it and I was like, ‘Who is this?’ And later I saw him in ‘Animal Kingdom,’ which is a great film, and he was brilliant. I was knocked out by what he did on ‘Exodus.'”

The movie, which also stars Sigourney Weaver (“Alien”) as an Egyptian queen, was criticized for its Caucasian cast after the trailer was released earlier this summer.

Also read: Hollywood’s Disabled Actors Protest NBC’s ‘Ironside’ Casting – When Is It Their Turn?

Ridley Scott‘sExodus: Gods And Kings’ movie is racist as shit. And it’s disgusting, lazy and a movie that people shouldn’t still be making in 2014,” David Dennis Jr. wrote in a lengthy opinion piece for Medium. “Boycott the movie. Go see the movie. I don’t care. Just know that what you’re watching  –  if you choose to watch it  —  is a crock of bullishit.”

That sentiment resonates with 16,300 people who have signed a petition urging Scott to stop racist casting.

See photos: 20 Physically Disabled Characters Played by Able-Bodied Actors

“In his new version of Moses’ battle to save his people from slavery, Scott has played into the worst, most outdated assumptions that the heros of Judaism and Christianity were Caucasian,” the Care2 petition reads. “Christian Bale is playing Moses. Did anyone in the ancient middle east look like Christian Bale?”

Scott was not asked about the racial component of his casting decision, but he did answer a question about how he formed the international cast — which has been criticized for only featuring colored performers in small roles, such as servants, thieves and assassins.

“Egypt was – as it is now – a confluence of cultures, as a result of being a crossroads geographically between Africa, the Middle East and Europe,” Scott said. “We cast major actors from different ethnicities to reflect this diversity of culture, from Iranians to Spaniards to Arabs. There are many different theories about the ethnicity of the Egyptian people, and we had a lot of discussions about how to best represent the culture.”

Also read: Holy Moses! Christian Bale Gets Biblical in First ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ Trailer (Video)

Casting white actors as characters who were historically not white — either in reality or the original piece of fiction — is nothing new in the entertainment business. It started with minstrel shows and vaudeville, and continues to this day in major studio productions including “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” “Prince of Persia,” “Argo,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and “21.”

Producers point to bankability of the stars they’re gambling on to draw an audience into theaters, but Mel Gibson‘s 2006 Mayan adventure film “Apocalypto” challenges that theory — or excuse, depending on who you ask.

The lead, a Mayan named Jaguar Paw, was played by Native American Rudy Youngblood, who spoke Yucatec Maya language throughout the film, which grossed $120.6 million worldwide on a $40 million budget. Sure, it’s not the $457.6 million Scott’s “Gladiator” grossed around the world in 2000, but it’s proof that audiences are willing to be adventurous if the story is intriguing.