Dear Ari Handel,
Congratulations on the financial success and reasonable critical reception of Noah, which you co-wrote with Darren Aronofsky. However, the film has received criticism for its lack of racial diversity and your defense of the homogeny is … oh boy.
“From the beginning, we were concerned about casting, the issue of race. What we realized is that this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people … You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it, or you just say, ‘Let’s make that not a factor, because we’re trying to deal with everyman.’”
You later followed up with some clarification that, quite frankly, resolved nothing.
And the problem really comes down to this for us … in this story, God, the highest moral authority of all, says very clearly that one family is good and deserves to be saved, and everybody else on the planet is wicked and deserves to die. So those are really high moral stakes. And what was clear to us and essential was that we could not, no matter what, show racial differences between who lived and who died, or we’d be making a terrible, terrible statement.
But the problem is there’s eight people on the boat, they’re in one family, they’re almost all from the same blood—you know, related by blood, so there’s no way to come even close to showing the full diversity of human beings on this planet amongst the survivors.
So actually what we did is, we went the other way. And we looked to make a cast, both on the boat and off the boat, who had as little difference as possible. And I want to be clear that there’s no reason that that cast had to be Caucasian. We could have cast any Noah and built the world around him.
I appreciate that you gave race a great deal of consideration but you could not have chosen a worse way to “resolve” the issue.
You decided to dodge controversy by removing race from the movie altogether but that’s not possible because there is no such thing as a racially neutral human. What’s worse is that you thought you could accomplish this with an all-white cast, failing to realize that white is itself a race. It’s not representative of “the everyman.” No one race can be.
However, I understand your concern that drowning a diverse cast of characters and only allowing the ethnicity of Noah’s family to survive would be “making a terrible, terrible statement.” From that perspective, featuring a homogenous cast did make sense but, again, why white? You argue that this story is mythological but it still takes place on earth and therefore requires some historical, cultural grounding. The middle eastern origin of the Torah, Bible and Qu’ran begs the question: why didn’t you feature a Middle Eastern cast?
Different traditions hold that Noah is buried in Armenia, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. You said that “there’s no reason that that cast had to be Caucasian” so why didn’t you cast actors from one of those countries and set the movie there? I suspect it’s because there really was a reason the cast had to be caucasian, at least in your mind. You feared that a non-white cast would isolate the audience or that the absence of a bankable (aka white) star would hurt the film financially. Even if that’s true (and I hope it’s not) I wish that you had had the courage and intelligence to realize what a sickening reinforcement of the status quo it is to use an all-white cast to tell a story that (whether you admit it or not) takes places in the Middle East.
At least have the self-awareness to realize it’s whitewashing.