As Disney's would-be blockbuster Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time stampedes into theaters this weekend, concerned parties are asking why the company couldn't find a more authentically complected actor than Jake Gyllenhaal to play the titular Iranian royal. "It's insulting that people of color — especially Middle Easterners or south Asians — are not allowed to portray ourselves in these roles," says blogger Jehanzeb Dar in the L.A. Times. Is the outrage justified or just reflexive?
What's wrong with Iranian actors? This film's "unbearable whiteness" is "depressingly lazy and unimaginative," says Steven Boone at Salon. Using an English accent as "shorthand for nobility and heroism" went out of vogue around the time of Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra. Movies like Mel Gibson's Apocalypto have shown that casting multi-ethnic actors can add "gravity" and "transport young minds." Was Disney afraid "casting Iranians would inflame zealots"?
"'Prince of Persia' royally blows it"
The casting (obviously) is about dollars, not discrimination: Bankability is the primary motive for any casting decision, says James Hudnall at Big Hollywood. Race didn't come into it, and it's naive to think it would: "They just needed a good-looking leading man with dark hair who can pull off the stunts." And besides, aren't Persians, or Iranians, "ethnically white" anyway?
"Hypocritical race-baiting media 'whitewashes' truth"
Aren't we taking this video game movie too seriously? While there's something "disjointed" about a white man playing a Persian or Iranian prince, says Jonathan Curiel at True/Slant, the movie is actually based on a video game "created by a white American," starring a character with the "exact same non-Persian traits as Jake Gyllenhaal." It's not as if we're dealing with documented history here.
"Why isn't the 'Prince of Persia' a real Persian?"