Day Of The Falcon sends casting back to 1942
Well folks, here we are again.
Remember a few months back, we discussed the remarkable slew of questionable casting decisions being made in Hollywood lately? It centred around Ben Kingsley - who is of English and Indian descent - playing The Mandarin in Iron Man 3.
Like I said at the time, "As the debate over the casting of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games demonstrated, unless otherwise specified in the body of the screenplay, the tendency when it comes to casting is to assume whiteness of all characters. But where a character's ethnicity is explicitly stated in the script or the material to be adapted - especially when said adaptation is a biopic - the mind boggles as to why casting agents and directors seem to throw caution to the wind and go for whoever happens to be available."
Well, that "whoever we can get" approach to casting was clearly in full effect when Jean-Jacques Annaud's Day of the Falcon started locking down its cast.
Take a look at the trailer, released today, and see if anything seems fishy to you:
Yes, that's Antonio Banderas, who is Spanish, playing a Sheikh, and Mark Strong, who is English, playing another Sheikh, as well as Tahar Rahim, who is French/Algerian, playing Strong's son, and Frieda Pinto, who is Indian, as Banderas' daughter. All wear much eyeliner and bronzer in what appears to be an Orientalist nightmare. Whee!
Now, this is Day Of The Falcon's new trailer for US release this year - however, it was previously known as Black Gold (and, before that, Black Thirst) when it was released in France and Qatar in late-2011; according to that title's Wiki entry, it was "produced by Tarak Ben Ammar, Chairman of Quinta Communications and co-produced by the Doha Film Institute, Qatar. The film has a budget of US$55 million, and is one of the most expensive films backed by an Arab about an Arab subject."
Given the Arab backing, it seems odd that Annaud chose to approach the film's casting in such a backwards manner.
How far is it, really, from Antonio Banderas in eyeliner and fake tan to all the British and American actors playing "Indian" in Zoltan Korda's 1942 edition of The Jungle Book?
Reviewers who saw the film under its original title seemed less concerned by the Golden Age Of Hollywood-style casting than they did the rest of the film.
In the Telegraph, Robbie Collin said that "Annaud tries to conjure the spirit of Lawrence of Arabia, but all his film has in common with David Lean’s epic are the odd sweeping shot of dunes and a dedicated bunch of camel extras. Each scene feels longer than the last, and the supporting cast’s performances are cruder than the black stuff bubbling from the desert."
Given all this, plus the film's decidedly lukewarm reception upon its initial release in Europe and a smattering of other territories, a US release nearly two years later seems a rather bewildering move.
Unless the distributors are hoping for people to become so enraged that they buy a ticket just to seethe, in which case, have at it.