Leonardo DiCaprio for Rumi?
The word on the street – or the internet, rather – is that
- "Gladiator"'s screenwriter David Franzoni has his eyes on Leonardo DiCaprio for the role of Rumi
- in an upcoming biopic about the celebrated 13th century Persian poet and mystic.
- While this has come as good news to DiCaprio fans, as well as those who enjoy good old-fashioned entertainment,
- others are deeming Franzoni’s to cast a ‘white’ actor for the role as...
an outrageous example of typical Hollywood whitewashing!
- I mean, come on – Rumi wasn’t white (as the hashtag #Rumiwasntwhite makes clear)
- Or was he?
- Oh, if only the issue were as black-and-white, as so many are suggesting.
- What does one really mean by ‘white’ anyway?
Rumi, who for years has been the best-selling poet in the US, was born in Balkh
- in Greater Iran, in the early 13th century.
- Now a city in Afghanistan, it is widely known by historians and scholars as the ‘Cradle of the Aryan Race’
- For ages, white supremacists such as the Nazis have been claiming (although falsely) to be of the Aryan race.
- If Balkh happens to be the ‘cradle’ of that race, then wouldn’t that make Rumi, by default, ‘white’?
- And, wouldn’t that mean that they should hold the Aryans – that is, the Iranian and northern Indian peoples – in particularly high esteem?
There’s a LOT of outrage after screenwriters admit they want DiCaprio to play Islamic poet
- ‘OK,’ some might say, ‘but the claims of white supremacists are grossly wrong, and
- the people of Iran and Afghanistan aren’t white’.
- Again, I could argue that this isn’t exactly the case.
- The Iranian peoples (e.g. Persians, Afghans, Kurds, etc.) come in many varieties, and
- you’d be surprised to see how common features such as:
--- blue eyes,
--- bright white skin (in particular),
--- and blonde hair
- are all around the Iranian world.
- Sure, blue eyes and blonde hair aren’t mainstream, but they aren’t rare, either.
- As such, it isn’t as if DiCaprio is going to look ridiculously out-of-place.
Let’s go back to the question I asked earlier: what does ‘white’ even mean?
- If Rumi was an Aryan from a region abounding with white-skinned people, then
- certainly it doesn’t only have to do with skin colour.
- When we say ‘white’, are we also talking about power and influence?
- Where does ‘whiteness’ begin and end?
- We use the term ‘Caucasian’ to refer to whiteness, but
- do the majority consider the indigenous peoples of the Caucasus – Armenians, Georgians, and Iranians, amongst others – to be ‘white’?
- Not really, and neither do many of them themselves (I’ll get back to this point shortly)
If Franzoni decides to use an unknown Romanian actor tomorrow
- will he cause a comparable commotion? Probably not.
- DiCaprio is not only white-skinned, but also a superstar American actor
- soon to be cast (if all goes according to plan) in a blockbuster Hollywood film
- You’d be hard-pressed not to admit that his celebrity status has much to do with the whole hullaballoo.
I’m Iranian. I am of a race revered (for whatever reason) by white supremacists
- My relatives and I, like others hailing from the Caspian Sea region and the Caucasus, have skin so white
- our faces never fail to turn bright red in the sun
- (although darker varieties of Persian and Afghan skin are also incredibly prevalent).
- If, as I’ve said, we aren’t rarities by any means
- (believe it or not, I’ve seen Iranians even paler than me)
Then why are some Iranians and Afghans so contentious with Franzoni’s decision?
- From Emma Stone to Yul Brynner: 20 times Hollywood was guilty of white-washing movies
- ‘Middle Easterners are not white’
--- wrote one disgruntled Iranian follower on my publication’s Instagram page,
--- ‘that’s a lie propagated by the American immigration system’.
- An Iranian subscriber of our Facebook page had something different to say:
--- ‘Rumi was Persian … so why is there anything wrong with a white man playing Rumi?’
- If I’m not white, then what am I?
- But, as we say in Persian, why are we going so far?
- Franzoni and DiCaprio are both of Italian ancestry, and
--- I’ve known Italians who haven’t considered themselves as ‘white’.
--- ‘We’re not like these whites’, some of them have said to me.
- Likewise, I’ve known Armenians (who can also be incredibly white-skinned, like many Iranians)
--- who have referred to themselves as ‘people of colour’.
- Do you see the issue here?
Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for authenticity and the support of local actors and actresses
- One could justifiably argue that Franzoni should instead employ Afghan or Iranian actors,
- as was the case with the cinematic adaptation of "The Kite Runner".
- Shahab Hosseini, for instance, could make a fine Rumi; and,
- if it’s blue eyes Franzioni’s after, then Bahram Radan just might be his man
Citing DiCaprio’s ‘whiteness’ as a basis for anger and contention
- in this particular case – is difficult to rationalize.
- In fact, it’s more than just that; it’s also incredibly problematic and detrimental.
- When Iranians and Armenians, for instance, refer to others like DiCaprio as ‘white’,
- what they’re saying is that they aren’t.
- They are allowing, and even encouraging Hollywood filmmakers to distinguish:
--- between themselves – ‘whites’, free from any ‘impurities’ – and
--- the ‘coloured’ rest, as well as appropriate a skin colour.
- And, if ‘white’ also has to do with power and influence,
--- this becomes even more of a cause for concern.
- ‘You are pure and powerful’, one is actually saying, ‘unlike us, the impure and downtrodden’.
So, was Rumi ‘white’?
- It depends on how you define ‘whiteness’.
- He could have well been white-skinned; but
- alas, there weren’t any photographs around in his time.
- I’m not saying he was or wasn’t.
- I’m only saying that the issue of ‘whiteness’, in this case, as well as in many others, is much more complex than it may appear to be.
- As long as (and this is the catch) Franzoni & co. don’t:
--- rewrite historical events and
--- put words of others into Rumi’s mouth
--- (as so many new-age ‘translators’ have done),
- the upcoming biopic might actually make for one hell of a film,
- which will not only entertain, but also bring Rumi’s messages of love to audiences the world over.
- And wouldn’t that be doing the sage justice?
Read more: http://metro.co.uk/2016/06/12/leonardo-dicaprio-cant-play-rumi-because-he-wasnt-white-or-was-he-5939657