I know there are a lot of important issues to discuss this week -- like BP's oil spill, Europe's financial meltdown and of course the opening of Sex and the City 2 -- but stop the presses, because apparently we have all missed one big thing: The Prince of Persia was a white guy!
At least that is what the new movie Prince of Persia opening this weekend would have us believe. And who is playing the title role -- an actor whose very name conjures up the Middle East: Jake Gyllenhaal -- who would've thought that the guy from Bubble Boy -- who is of Swedish heritage -- could be the Prince of Persia. Was Owen Wilson busy? Why not just get Will Ferrell -- which in all honestly would've been great and I would've been at the midnight screening of the film if he was the star of it!
The way the producers were able to justify a white guy playing the Prince of Persia was by the story line that "yes, we know he is white, but he was adopted by the benevolent Persian King" -- so apparently in ancient Persia they had their own version of Angelina Jolie but who instead of adopting poor African children, would adopt poor white kids. (Can anyone tell me how a poor white kid traveled to and found ancient Persia? Did they even have Google maps then?)
And get this -- apparently in ancient Persia they all spoke English with an English accent! I wonder when the Persians began speaking Farsi?! And not only did they speak with an English accent, apparently from the trailer, Jake Gyllenhaal's English accent is an almost cockney Eliza Doolittle My Fair Lady type accent. Spoiler alert: I haven't seen the movie but wouldn't it be cool if they gave Jake an "Eliza Doolittle" type makeover so by the end he really speaks Farsi and learns actual Persian culture.
Some people have claimed they know Iranians who look like Jake Gyllenhaal or that Persians are technically white - that is not my point. My issue is that this movie has no people of Middle Eastern-heritage playing any of the starring roles. Check out the cast breakdown on IMDB. In addition to Jake as the "Prince," the movie features Ben Kingsley as "Nazim," Alfred Molina as "Sheik Amar" and the role of "King Sharaman" is played by an English dude named Ronald Pickup!
Maybe Hollywood will make up for this by casting as the star in the upcoming Captain America movie a guy with a name like Waleed Zuaiter, or Omar Metwally or even Dean Obeidallah - okay, the last one is me, but I think you get the point. But let's be honest - If a person of Middle Eastern heritage was cast as "Captain America," how many Americans would be outraged?! It would cause a huge controversy and many people would be very angry - Sean Hannity's head would likely explode! (Which is a enough of a reason in my book to make such a daring casting move!)
On some level I'm thankful that we have evolved from the days of those crappy Chuck Norris type films filled with us only depicted as terrorists -- played typically by Hispanic, Indian and Italian guys. But it's not all great -- the new Sex and the City 2 movie depicts every Arab women covered in a burka and that is just ignorant crap - I have performed stand up comedy across the region and all the women are NOT covered -- in fact most are not! (In fairness, I didn't see Sex and the City 2 yet but will be soon with my girlfriend in exchange for her having to see Avatar -- which I argued really wasn't a "guy "film but more a family picture but alas I lost that argument so off I go to the girliest movie since He Is Just Not That Into You.)
Why is that important to me? Because until we get a chance to play those starring roles - even just one of those leading roles - there never will be a Middle Eastern-American big star who can open movies and greenlight projects that accurately depict us. One big star can also open the door for writers, directors, etc,. of our heritage into the exclusive Hollywood club. And believe me, there are many, many talented people of Middle Eastern heritage in the business at this point and I'm confident in time we will breakthrough-but obviously the wait continues. (And yes, I know that Arabs and Persians are not the same-but in this struggle, we have a lot in common.)
I have a dream -- actually I have many dreams -- but the one that is relevant to this article is my dream that there will be a day when Hollywood makes a movie about the Middle East and actually casts Middle Eastern people in the starring roles. There are some great Middle Eastern actors out there who would bring a realism and depth to these characters that a non-Middle Eastern actor could never do. If not, get ready for Prince of Persia 2 starring Tony Danza and The Jonas Brothers.
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