Arts & Culture, Features

Leo to Portray a Sufi Mystic

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Hollywood director David Franzoni is set to start casting for a film based on the life of the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. Known for his directorial role for the 2000 film Gladiator, which was celebrated as one of the most historically accurate portrayals of the Roman Empire, expectations for Franzoni’s interpretation were high. That is, before the yet to be titled biopic sparked controversy when Franzoni mentioned he might be casting Leonardo DiCaprio as the film’s lead and Robert Downey Jr. as Shams of Tabriz. Considering Rumi’s status as an ethnically and linguistically Persian literary icon, audiences’ outrage at the blatant white-washing of an important historical figure is understandable. The director stated he wanted an esteemed cast in order to “challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters in Hollywood” and later cited the popularity of Rumi in America as the impetus. “There are a lot of reasons we’re making a product like this right now. I think it’s a world that needs to be spoken to; Rumi is hugely popular in the United States. I think it gives him a face and a story.” The award winning actors will definitely attract audiences who may not otherwise be interested in Iranian history, but does the mass appeal justify the continuation of Hollywood’s xenophobia and racism? By Lindsay Cooper

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