New Petition Challenges Producers Not To Cast Leo As Persian Poet Rumi

There’s been a bit of brouhaha recently about an upcoming biopic of the 13th century Persian poet Rumi – an Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic, whose poems are of significant spiritual and cultural influence across the Middle East and Asia.

Rumi’s poems are also very popular in the West, particularly in the United States, where his work tends to be stripped of its Islamic significance and are read more as peons to ‘personal growth’ and suchlike. Very Instagrammable!
Anyway, there’s a film coming out, and an interview with screenwriters David Franzoni and Stephen Joel Brown told The Guardian revealed that the team are pretty keen on casting Leo DiCaprio in the lead role. Look, Leo playing a 13th century Persian poet-mystic does seem a little jarring.
Now there’s a petition to the filmmakers not to whitewash Rumi, fearing that future people will remember him as picture him as having “pale skin, blond hair, and blue eyes”. It’s scored 6,000 signatures.
The petition’s writers are starting a hashtag campaign #RumiWasntWhite. They bring up a number of recent examples of Hollywood’s issues with racial casting – like Emma Stone as a half-Japanese woman in Aloha, and Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia.
Some caveats on this particular one, obviously. The original interview read like pie-in-the-sky thinking from the screenwriters about their dream person for the project, and ultimately the screenwriters likely won’t get a huge say in who is ultimately cast. But that’s where a petition is most effective.
That being said, it’s insanely frustrating for actors of Middle Eastern descent – especially in America – that they’re automatically disregarded in favour of some white dude who can grow a beard, whack on a turban and some fake tan and all of a sudden they’re Persian. 
You may well think that whitewashing in Hollywood is not that big a deal. But Hollywood, which is portrayed as some kind of liberal bastion, is very, very bad at bringing people of colour into the fold outside of their big, bankable actors. You’d think that, if anything, casting a national hero of Iran might invite some reflection on the best way to approach it.
Photo: Getty Images.