Earlier this week I splurged and bought the DVD set of the mini-series, Tut, starring Ben Kingsley that aired on Spike TV. I confess, I was really excited when I saw it and got it a day before my paycheck was in the bank. Hey, it’s ancient Egypt. Some things get prioritized!
I excitedly loaded the DVD into my PC, I had a few hours before I really had to settle into watching the series. I suffered through the previews and finally got the feature film. I had my double espresso and I was ready to enjoy watching from the comfort of my home office.
Within the first fifteen minutes, I knew that I hated it. There is no real mention of Nefertiti, or Kiya, Tut’s supposed mother. before we learn that Akhenaten has allegedly been poisoned and just before being sent to his deathbed, he manages to exact revenge on the plotters – or so he thinks. It wouldn’t have taken much for the show’s writers or producers to even bother to read history and center their script around it. Instead, they took the term ‘creative non-fiction’ to a whole new level.
Kingsley being cast as the elderly Ay is actually an excellent choice. Kingsley plays at being ‘bad’ really well. The rest of the cast, not so much. To be completely honest – I absolutely hated the show. I hated it for the fact that the pruduction values were low enough that I could determine when the producers used repeated clips of film over and over again. No one, not even someone who has a film background, should be able to spot something like this. How is it in cheesy 80’s movies such as The Awakening with Charlton Heston, Stephanie Zimbalist and Susanah York can they get the film props to look like real antiquities – and in modern miniseries such as this one we have props and costuming that looks so incredibly bad and historically inaccurate? Did the costume designers even study the period? Nevermind that in The Awakening, Susanah York, who was allegedly playing an accomplished Egyptologist, just so happens to forget the first lesson of translating hieroglyphs and is seen on screen reading them backwards.
The one good thing about some of the Egyptian-themed movies of the past is that producers actually availed themselves of the expertise of egyptologists. For Stargate and the subsequent Mummy movies, Dr. Stuart Smith was consulted to reconstruct spoken Kemetic.
The high priest in the movie, (of what Temple? Of What God?) is a man with an unshaven head? Historically, that didn’t seem too likely. And if he is praying to Amun-Ra – then they definitely got a statue of the wrong god in the picture. It was a statue of Horus – or Sokar, but it was absolutely not Amun.
At least the lead character playing Tutankhamun, Avan Jogia, said his name and made it at least sound right. When Jogia even used the title, “Nisut Bity”, I nearly fell out of my chair in shock. How can a three part miniseries where everything else is so abysmally wrong, actually get that one teeny detail of Ancient Egyptian titulary right?
The “tragic” queen, Ankhesenamun, played by Australian actress, Sibylla Deen, flounces around the set like a very bad Bollywood actress. She doesn’t act like a woman of royal blood by any sense. But then again, neither did Leonor Varela when she played Cleopatra VII in that particular mini-series either. Both of them sounded like shrill fish wives in their roles and the suspension of disbelief was too much even for those of us who truly wanted to believe. I half expected a song and dance number to break out among the courtly plots that were going on unbeknownst to the King.
This show is so much like every other show that Hollywood attempts about Ancient Egypt in the last two decades. They cast the wrong people – usually Americans or Brits – to play ancient Egyptian people. In other words, they need to stop casting white people for these roles – I don’t care how good an actor or actress they are. Let’s stop with the historically inaccurate portrayal of historical figures. This is just as bad as when they cast white actors to play Indians back in the 50’s and 60’s. Egypt was a very cosmopolitan country, and the people in it were pretty much varying degrees of brown, etc. That’s what happens in places that are trade centers and there is food. People tend to go where the food is and where they can be assured of relative safety.
Coming at the end of February is the long-awaited trainwreck…erm, film “Egyptian Gods”. The buildup toward final release is beginning. Needless to say, the buzz is beginning, and not all of it is positive.
My opinion on the film is that it’s meant to be a money maker. Hollywood producers and financiers especially have no imagination and are obsessed with profit margins over quality by putting out things with lots of special effects and flash but very little else. Investors in major motion picture projects like this one want a sure thing so that they can not only get a return on investment (ROI) but also make a profit – whether at the box office or in DVD sales and streaming or a combination of all of the above, that is what their chief motivator was and is. Right now, Egypt sells. In fact interest in Egypt is at an all time high with the latest discoveries of a possible additional tomb attached to that of Tutankhamun, and by the Gods, the studios want to cash in.
I have heard lots of screaming in various forums, and not just on Facebook, about what color the actors playing the Gods are. As I mentioned earlier, I do agree it is both sad and frustrating that actors of color for the most part were passed over and the major roles went to mostly white, A-Listers such as Gerard Butler. Let’s set that issue aside for just a moment.
Going beyond that argument and taking it a step further, in my not-so-humble opinion, the most objectionable part of this film is the absolute bastardization of our mythologies to the point where they no longer resemble the original at all. I’m sorry, Kemetic culture was more poised and gracious than that gaudy mess! The costumes with capes for the men and plunging metalic-clad cleavage ever seen since Flash Gordon in the 80’s! Maybe that’s what they were going for with the color palette and the “Hawkmen” getup.
Hathor, of course, certainly looks expensive. The sets look more Greek or Roman than they do Kemetic. Why? Multi-million dollar budgets, that’s why.
I don’t believe for an instant that even an all black cast and crew could salvage any of what promises to be just more vapid, Hollywood dreck. If this film had been true to it’s real Kemetic roots and written decently, I doubt that the investors would have ever let it be made into a movie. That to me is the deepest crime of all; that Hollywood culture thinks nothing of insulting the intelligence of everyone with more bullshit and glittery crap that has nothing to do with historical or cultural accuracy. We Kemetics are going to have to explain the glaring inaccuracies to people who think of entertainment films as being just spicier documentaries.
Will I watch this film?
Probably. But I definitely won’t purchase it or stream it until it reaches the used book store. I don’t want them to make a single penny of profit off of me.
My biggest dream for a film on Ancient Kemet is to see the entire film first of all follow accurate history, and be done entirely in spoken Kemetic – like Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, which was done entirely in Mayan and Yucatec with English subtitles. I know such a thing is possible in Kemetic because of the bits of the original Stargate and The Mummy films employed the language. Ancient Kemetic history is filled with good stories that could be used such as the Harem Conspiracy of Rameses III, or the re-unification of Egypt by 25th Dynasty Pharaoh, Piye, who swept in from Nubia in order to reunite the Two Lands. (He also launched the first amphibious attack in world history, but that’s another very cool story for later).
Would it be difficult? Absolutely. Would such a film be a high budget expenditure? I don’t see how it could possibly be done any other way.
But then, that’s the point, isn’t it?. The 1963 release of Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor was originally 8 hours long and it ultimately caused the studio that produced it to go bankrupt! I actually own a shooting script for that film, and I have to say that for all its faults, they got much of the look and feel of Alexandria during the Ptolemaic period correct even if bits of history were wrong here and there. Today, however, instead of Hollywood spending all the money that it does on inaccurate, digitized imagery that looks like it was pulled out of a graphic novel or a video game. Why is it so difficult to give audiences something that is real and respectful? If they did, perhaps such a worthy endeavor would last long past the box office or DVD receipts are calculated and banked by the suits in Hollywood who no longer care for or believe in anything else except return on investment and profit margins. It would, that is, if they’re lucky.
15 responses to “Why Can’t Hollywood Seem to Get Ancient Egypt Right?”
Hollywood and the media sell a good story to make money, truth and authenticity does not sell.
Absolutely. This was first and foremost about money – history or culture be damned.
I agree with you. They would probably make more money it they were truer to the culture they were trying to portray. It would be something people aren’t used to and that may draw them in. As for people of color, there are so many actors and actresses who are awesome at their jobs and look similar to the ancients. It seems like Hollywood is to focused on typecasting them though
While I was watching the trailer all I could think was “oh please don’t let them have Bast in the movie, please don’t, please please please”. Ugh. What a trainwreck. Do these movies even do that well in the box office anymore?
They do less well in the theater than the DVD sales and streaming residuals. The bottom line is the bottom line. I don’t know that this film will actually make money at all. I do advise every Kemetic to avoid seeing it and either buy it second hand or some way where the studio et al gets as little return as possible. Hollywood needs to understand that its systematic ignoring of people of color POC and doing things the right way vs. the flashy, stupid way of the past is something they need to stop doing. Of course, I’ve come to the conclusion that wishing for that is like wishing the real Santa Claus will actually pay a visit on Christmas morn.
ha ha Indian mythology had all skin colors.
Yama – Black
Varuna – Black
Shukra – White
Vishnu – Bluish
Balarama – White
Indra – Reddish
Kubera – White
Varuna – Yellowish
Brihaspati – yellowish
Aditi – Golden
Yama and Yami are osiris and isis 🙂
Yes, and….? What does Indian mythology have to do with this article? It is talking about filmmaking and the problems with the fact (and it is a fact) that Hollywood out of habit hires Caucasian actors to play Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, Africans and just about every other ethnicity you care to name. Why? Because apparently the real people are not believed to be enough of a box office draw for the investors to break even let alone see an ROI.
And no. Yama and Yami are not Wasir and Aset. That’s the same as saying Hru Sa Aset is the same as Jesus. No. Sorry. Cultures are capable of having similar mythos but similarity does not in any way connote sameness.
Comparing and contrasting is nice, but it does not mean that they are exactly the same. Durga Devi and Sekhmet are quite similar as are Kali and Sekhmet – but they are not the same. I am not denying similarities. I am saying that both are worthy of respect and reverence on their own and each for their unique qualities.
Each culture is capable of having separate and distinct mythos. In my personal opinion, the practice of melding them together discounts and diffuses those differences and negates certain important and unique cultural aspects. Just as Typhon is not Set – nor is Set Lucifer / Satan. During the turn of the last century, early Egyptologists presented it that way in order to receive funding from rich research patrons. We don’t need to do that sort of thing now.
I do believe it is possible to appreciate diversity and similarity between cultures.
If you are at all serious about noting the similiarties between India and Egypt during its history and the cultural exchantes, then by all means, then read “India and Egypt: Infuences and Interactions Marg Publications, Cairo. It may be a bit pricey but worthe read. There as a conference during the 80’s that discussed the cultural exchanges at length.
Did you see the Mayan and Indian similarity, that’s 7 seas across before columbus. One hell of a coincidence. 🙂
Actually even though Indian subcontinent have gods of same name, they have different culture and traditions. India is like more than 20 countries r olled into one. Each state is like a different country with different culture and traditions even though they worship the same gods. 🙂
I clicked on that youtube link and there was a lot of comments about skin color of gods in that video. That was the reason for mentioning the skin color of gods from Indian mythology. 🙂
Skin color is also symbolic. See “Reading Egyptian Art” by Richard H. Wikinson, Thames and Hudson, 1992 ISBN 0-500-27751-6
The Romans and Norse had same gods, but there was cultural differences.