If you saw Exodus‘ box office returns ($65 million domestic on a $140 million budget, though it did well overseas), you know that a boycott of it is probably unnecessary, even if we did have a time machine (also, it wasn’t very good). The cast and crew mostly presented a unified front against white-washing allegations (which is their job, after all) at the time, but Don Cheadle, Hollywood insider though he is, wasn’t going to toe that line.
Cheadle was recently a guest on the Don’t Be Scared podcast, co-hosted by David D, who had written an eloquent takedown of Exodus: Gods and Kings around the time of its release. They got on the subject of Exodus through Rachel Dolezal, who had also called for a boycott, which is neither here nor there. Anyway:
CHEADLE: She was right though! Boycott that sh*t! Don’t see that movie. From time immemorial, anything that was set before a certain date, everybody talked British, and nobody was black. And in the future, there are no black people. …There’s been a problem with movies, as far as representation has gone, forever.
Sounds pretty harsh. Yet at the same time, his explanation for why white-washing happens doesn’t sound that different from Ridley “Mohammed So-and-So” Scott’s:
“You would still probably need a white lead in the movie to give a foreign sales component, which is the biggest piece of the money-making mechanism for movies. It’s not just the US, it’s Japan, it’s China, Korea… all of these territories are sold off individually, and that’s how you make the argument for how much money you can have to make your movie. And they way they have ginned the game, whether it’s true or not, they’ll say we cannot make the movie unless we have those sales guaranteed, and the way that we know we can guarantee those sales is to [cast] a white actor. You need a white male face.” [Bossip]
Ergo, it’s not necessarily racial bias they’re up against (“Hollywood would put a shoe onscreen if they thought that would make a billion dollars,” Cheadle says), or at least, not just racial bias, it’s the bias against trying new ways of doing things vs. doing things the same way that’s worked in the past. That’s a bias that has indisputably infected entertainment, and probably all business, for years. And that one’s a lot harder to break.
Though if there’s one silver lining in this cloud, it’s that when all else fails, the surefire way to bring black people and white people together is being able to blame our internal divisions on foreigners. I mean, we’d probably have lots of black movies if it weren’t for those god damned red Chinamen.