8 Times Hollywood whitewashed the Bible (VIDEOS)

Nov 28, 2014 at 3:14 p.m. ET

Ridley Scott is under intense scrutiny for his decision to cast white actors in his upcoming movie Exodus: Gods and Kings, but he's just one in a long line of directors who have whitewashed the Bible.

I'm not going to lie: I was pretty excited when I saw the trailer for Exodus: Gods and Kings, mostly because I'm a history dork, especially when it comes to ancient Egypt, so the architecture and costume shots really did it for me. There's just one problem: The movie is facing criticism for its primarily white cast, which is a little extremely problematic because historically, there was an overall lack of white dudes in ancient Egypt. People are noticing, and the hashtag #BoycottExodusMovie popped up over the weekend as more and more people expressed their distaste for the casting choice. There are actors of color in significant roles, but Christian Bale was cast as Moses, the protagonist, while Sigourney Weaver will play Queen Tuya, the mother of Ramses.

Holy Moses! Christian Bale to star in Biblical epic


Scott, for his part, isn't doing himself any favors with remarks like, "I can't mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammed so-and-so from such-and-such." Yikes.

The truth is, there's a long history of whitewashing in Hollywood, and Gods and Kings is just the latest Biblical epic to continue the tradition.

1. The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)


This four-hour-long movie is a favorite of grandmothers who want to bore their grandkids to death (not that I'm bitter or anything). It chronicles the life and times of Jesus, played by Max von Sydow, and features Charlton Heston as John the Baptist and Dorothy McGuire as the Virgin Mary.

2. The Ten Commandments (1956)


In this Cecile B. DeMille classic, Charlton Heston played Moses, Yul Brynner played Rameses and Anne Baxter played the Egyptian queen Nefretiri.

3. Ben-Hur (1959)


Ben-Hur won a whole mess of Oscars and featured Charlton Heston yet again, this time as Judah Ben-Hur of Jerusalem. One of those awards went to Hugh Griffith, who played his entire role as Sheik Ilderim in brownface.

Nick Cannon's whiteface: Funny or racist?

4. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)


This movie was controversial for its time, since it was based on a novel of the same name that portrayed Jesus as surprisingly human. Of course, a rosy cheeked, sandy blond Willem Dafoe as the Semitic Christ didn't seem to raise any eyebrows at the time.

5. Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)


Speaking of controversial flicks, this one certainly takes the cake. While it's important to take the whole movie with a heaping of salt, it's worth noting that the cast in this Monty Python comedy were all pretty, erm, homogeneous.

6. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)


To be fair, this rock opera did cast Carl Anderson, a black actor — as traitor Judas Iscariot. Lily-white Ted Neeley played the main man himself.

While you could argue that the casting of all-white actors in older films was par for the course, what's the excuse for the newer films?

7. The Passion of the Christ (2004)


This movie was a huge hit, and remarkable in that accuracy was purportedly so important to Mel Gibson when he directed it that all of the dialogue was performed in ancient Aramaic or Latin. Which is why it's weird that the film is chock-full of white folks playing Middle and Near Eastern roles, including Jim Caviezel as Jesus.

Mel Gibson's racist rant

8. Noah (2014)


Noah drew a lot of ire from religious groups for its controversial depiction of the Old Testament flood, but was called out further for its use of all-white actors in main roles, including Russell Crowe as Noah and Emma Watson as Ila, the wife of Noah's son Ham.