David Franzoni, the Oscar-winning director of The Gladiator (2000) has reportedly lined up Leonardo DiCaprio to play the Persian poet Jalaluddin al-Rumi in a new film based on Rumi’s life.
Franzoni told The Guardian that they want Rumi, a Persian Sufi Muslim born in what is now Afghanistan, to be portrayed in the film by Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio, a white actor with a mix of German, Italian, and Russian heritage.
The news of DiCaprio being considered for the role did not go down well over social media, with the hashtag #RumiWasntWhite trending on Twitter for a while.
Hollywood insists that people only want movies w/ white actors, the reality is *they* only want movies w/ white actors. #RumiWasntWhite
— Kirsten Thompson (@katannthompson) June 8, 2016
Racists get so mad when a FICTIONAL character eg hermione is made black but they’re fine whitewashing REAL PEOPLE??? Ok #RumiWasntWhite
— Chlo Dameron (@Marmite___) June 7, 2016
Last December, when Noma Dumezweni was cast as Hermione Granger for the 8th instalment in the Harry Potter franchise, the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, some fans protested so vehemently against the idea of a non-white Hermione, that author JK Rowling had to tweet that Hermione Granger had never been canonically written as white.
Meanwhile, four months ago, a similar hashtag, #OscarSoWhite, was trending on Twitter, critiquing the Academy of Motion Pictures and Science’s for nominating only white actors in its top four categories for the second time in a row.
— AJ Neely (@tastfilm) March 14, 2016
— Craig Ireneus (@calickizzle) May 28, 2016
Franzoni and producer Stephen Joel Brown said they wanted to challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters in Western cinema by charting the life of the great Sufi scholar. They also said that the main reason the film was being made, was to introduce Rumi’s life story to the millennial generation, given that his poetry has frequently been shared on social media platforms Facebook and Twitter.
The hashtag continues to trend over social media, raising questions on the lack of diversity in Hollywood.
— omid safi (@ostadjaan) June 9, 2016
With the Academy having failed to nominate a single black actor in its leading Oscars categories for the second year running, Marvel had also received flak recently for casting Tilda Swinton as a Tibetan mystic in Doctor Strange and Scarlett Johansson as Japanese character Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell.
I REALLY like Scarlett Johansson. She’ll do great in Ghost in the Shell. But it bothers me Hollywood STILL overlooks a lot of Asian actors.
— Meghan Sullivan (@Meghan_IGN) April 14, 2016
DiCaprio has thus far made no comments on the issue.