Prince of Persia director Mike Newell tells Reuters that he's worried that the film is "a little homogeneous". Critics are already saying the film is a whitewash — filled with white actors. But is it, and are they correct?
Throughout its history, Hollywood has hired white actors for pretty much any race — you name it, and a white dude has probably played it on screen. And it doesn't seem to be stopping. Hollywood, however, occasionally makes somewhat of an effort: it did cast Asian actress for the 2005 film version of Memoirs of a Geisha. However, those actresses were Chinese stars and not Japanese, something that caused considerable controversy for the film in both Japan and China.
However, for Prince of Persia, it is more important to note that issues of race are not clearcut. In the book The History of White People, author Nell Irvin Painter notes that many ethnic groups now viewed as white (such as Irish, Jews and Italians) were not viewed as part of America's "white" society. The definition of white has changed over time — and today, it is focused largely on skin color. This hasn't always been the case.
In years past, would Prince of Persia star Jake Gyllenhaal been considered "white" by main street USA? While the Brokeback Mountain star's father is descended from Swedish nobles, his New York Jewish mother raised him Jewish — complete with a bar mitzvah at a homeless shelter so he could be thankful for all that he had. What about Alfred Molina? The English born actor, who plays Sheik Amar in the film, is the son of a Spanish father and Italian mother.
And the film's other major star, Sir Ben Kingsley was born Krishna Pandit Bhanji. His physician father was a Gujarati Indian who was born in Kenya, but later moved to England. His mother, on the other hand, was the daughter of a Eastern European Jew. Is he white?
The film's lead heroine Princess Tamina, played by former Bond Gemma Arterton appears to be a rather vanilla white person, being born in Kent, England. She was, however, born with six fingers. (She's that GTAIV art — personified!)
Concepts of race and color are complex and ever changing. History has shown that, it will continue to show that.
Yes, it would have been great if the producers of Prince of Persia could have found Iranian actors for the film's leads. Iran has a vibrant film industry with internationally renowned filmmakers like Abbas Kiarostami. The real shame is that Prince of Persia producer Jerry Bruckheimer felt he could not tap into the country's vast reservoir of talent. Or chose not to. Certainly, there might be political hurdles at stake, casting difficulties, or it could simply be box office draw.
Jake Gyllenhaal isn't Persian. Then again, he apparently isn't gay, either.