Upon reports that producers and a screenwriter for an upcoming Rumi biopic hope to cast Leonardo DiCaprio as the iconic Sufi poet, people expressed their frustration on Twitter with the hashtag #RumiWasntWhite.
In an interview with The Guardian on Monday, David Franzonik, the Oscar Award-winning screenwriter of 2000’s “Gladiator,” and producer Stephen Joel Brown discussed their upcoming project about the life of Rumi. The interviewer wrote that they “said they wanted to challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters in western cinema” with their film. Franzonik and Brown also said that they “would like Leonardo DiCaprio to play Rumi, and Robert Downey Jr. to star as [Rumi’s mentor] Shams of Tabriz.”
Rumi was born during the 13th century in present-day Afghanistan. Shams of Tabriz was from what is now Iran. Both men are beloved Islamic figures, and Rumi has been called the “most popular poet in the U.S.” due to his consistently high sales.
After Australian comedian Aamer Rahman responded to the interview on Twitter with the hashtag, other users continued the conversation by including it in their own tweets.
Many pointed out the irony of challenging stereotypes about Muslims by using white, non-Muslim actors.
Other users offered alternative cast suggestions.
If the Rumi biopic starring DiCaprio and Downey Jr. were made, it would be just the latest film using white actors to portray Middle Eastern characters. "Gods of Egypt," "Prince of Persia," and "Exodus: Gods and Kings" all featured white actors in non-white roles.