Rumi so white: Hollywood filmmaker wants to cast Leo as Sufi mystic

Published: June 7, 2016
Twitter isn't happy, obviously.

Twitter isn't happy, obviously. PHOTO: FILE

Oscar-winning screenwriter David Franzoni is making a biopic on Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi, and has generated heaps of criticism on social media for wanting to cast Leonardo DiCaprio as Rumi.

The Gladiator writer aims to “challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters in Hollywood,” reports The Guardian. 

Breaking stereotypes: Bright coloured whirling dervishes put on display

According to The Guardian, David visited Istanbul to meet Rumi experts, so that the team could start shooting the film next year. Franzoni said, “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.”

Franzoni and producer Stephen Joel Brown, said they would like Leonardo DiCaprio to play Rumi, and Robert Downey Jr to star as Shams of Tabriz. “This is the level of casting that we’re talking about,” The Guardian reports Stephan as saying. 

However, the news of a ‘white-washed Rumi’ didn’t go down too well with people who grew up admiring the poet’s work.

13th century poet, Rumi in a painting. PHOTO: YOUTUBE

Since the Titanic star doesn’t look like he was born in Afghanistan, and Robert Downey Jr looks nothing like the non-white mystic, Shams, Twitter has blown up with anger and criticism of the casting.

Sufism: Expressing Rumi’s thought by painting whirling dervishes

Film and media critic, Imran Siddique was extremely vocal about the announcement of the cast.

The makers, however seem quite optimistic that they will have a positive impact on the audience since they are sharing the story of someone exceptional. They believe that “there’s something profoundly ‘gettable’ about Rumi. You get it. And not only do you get it but it involves you.”

Dervesh dance in Turkey. PHOTO: TURKEYTOURGUIDE

What are your thoughts?

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Reader Comments (31)

  • Bunny Rabbit
    Jun 7, 2016 - 12:25PM

    But he was from Persia and they ARE fair . so whats wrong with it . They cant cast any one from India or Africa for this FGS . Stop looking at some ISM in everything . Recommend

  • Brainy Bhaijan
    Jun 7, 2016 - 12:34PM

    Leo IS the best choice. He is not the type of actor who is going to take his character lightly. Recommend

  • Raw is War
    Jun 7, 2016 - 1:02PM

    Leo seems to reserch his charecters before portraying them. He should be given chance.Recommend

  • Saman
    Jun 7, 2016 - 3:45PM

    Ok,good choiceRecommend

  • Charlie
    Jun 7, 2016 - 6:33PM

    I am utterly disgusted by the comments on this article. It is never okay for a white person to play the role of a poc!
    In the movie American Sniper, the story was about killing muslims and people of color and there, the actors chosen to play the roles of muslims and pocs where all “appropriate”.
    But when a movie wants to have a poc as a main character, the actor chosen is (usually) always a white person. The fact that they chose DiCaprio and not someone that would be best suited for a poc role just shows how the main focus is always on white people.Recommend

  • Randomstranger
    Jun 7, 2016 - 7:09PM

    @Bunny Rabbit

    First of all he was a Tajik from Afghanistan. Secondly not all Persians are “fair”. Thirdly, Leo is a full blown “white” in the sense that he’s an ethnic European/caucasian. It is impossible to find people who look like Leo in modern day Afghanistan or Persia, despite whatever claims you hear on the internet. Recommend

  • Jun 7, 2016 - 9:24PM

    Great minds from the past should be allowed to talk. Reactionaries might resist but go ahead and make our days sweet enough by Rumi’s beautiful verses.Recommend

  • Sadaf
    Jun 7, 2016 - 10:51PM

    Have any of you traveled to Afghanistan? I have and these so called Anglo feature are very common there especially in the northern regions. After all Afghanistan is the land of the Aryans.Recommend

  • Randomstranger
    Jun 8, 2016 - 1:18AM


    Give me a break. We’ve got a good 3 million Afghan refugees living in the major cities of the country. When was the last time someone saw an Afghan who resembled Leonardo DiCaprio?

    And the light anglo-saxon features being “very common” there is a big generalization. The most European looking people in the entire region are arguably the Kalaash of Pakistan, and even they look nothing like the typical European. Recommend

  • Shocked
    Jun 8, 2016 - 7:42AM

    Its a movie for crying out loud, that too based in Hollywood!
    I do not understand why people like CHARLIE who commented above are thorwing a fit over this.
    Whats with the insecurities? Leo is a brilliant actor, and would do a wonderful job portraying whomsoever he is cast as.
    Everything in life is not about race and creed.
    You people are getting worked up like your tax dollars / rupees are going into this said production.
    Regardless if a white, black, brown or whatever colored person plays the lead role you guys will still watch the film.

    Whats with all the hate people!?Recommend

  • Suhail
    Jun 8, 2016 - 9:53AM

    Nothing wrong with casting a white person and a brilliant actor like Leo as long as the make up is convincing and the story is true to its character.Recommend

  • Jun 8, 2016 - 12:13PM

    Well I am pretty disappointed why color is the only one concern. Its 2016 come on, nothing is impossible we can do whatever we wish for. Leo is a great actor and he can fit in any character regardless of what is his religion or color etc. For your information Rumi was born in Afghanistan where people are fair in color. I am living in the north of the Pakistan which is near to border of Afghanistan we do have the same color and ethnically the same people. I am a white guy and I have many relatives who are much more whiter than Leo so its not a big deal and shouldn’t be a reason not to cast Leo for this role.Recommend

  • Mirror
    Jun 8, 2016 - 1:49PM

    @Bunny Rabbit: You are right they cannot cast Someone who’s un fair, i.e. from Pakistan or Africa. Ghulam Ali, javed miadad, basit ali, shafqat aman toned people would not suit the character. But it’s potraying emotions that matter not our color. Proud dark skin pakistani. Recommend

  • Asad
    Jun 8, 2016 - 2:49PM

    Next you will say Ashraf Ghani and Mamnoon Hussain are white and fair, who look like Bill Clinton and Brad Pitt.
    When will this fair skin obsession in our country end? White washing our dark skin to white with words, only gives temporary relief. It doesn’t change facts. Instead it shows we are ashamed of our colour and want to be westerner. Which we don’t.
    We have strong history and culture that west doesn’t have. We have our own Pakistani identity so do Afghans. Let somone from our region who resembles like us play the role, not a white pale west guy with blonde hair, blue eyes.Recommend

  • SingaporeGirl
    Jun 8, 2016 - 4:34PM

    Its not about colour and looks. Based on that painting might as well cast the latest Dr Who!

    I have no high opinion of LDC as an actor. But even giving him the benefit of the doubt I really doubt if he or the screenwriter of Gladiator (come on!!) can bring anything to such a complex role. You need to be reasonably steeped in the culture to be able to provide a skillful portrayal. Otherwise it is like locals playing “goras” in our film – inauthentic even if colour is right.

    But Hollywood has a problem alright. Starting with their faux European films. IT is a wonder Italians don’t protest about Brit actors hamming it up in Roman serials. If ethnicity is a non-issue cast Donnie Keshawarz as Bond. Can’t be pretty if you are an American of anything other than white, Christian ethnicity chasing roles.

    The best thing to do is to avoid these movies instead of treating Hollywood and Leo as the best on earth. Ultimately they are local films for white auds much like films from Japan, India, Nigeria etc. Stop giving it importance and let it be a local industry. Recommend

  • Saba
    Jun 8, 2016 - 5:11PM

    @SingaporeGirl: Why shoud anyone have a problem if British plays role of Italian?
    They share same DNA. We don’t. When you meet white guy, you cant tell whether he is british or italian. But you can easily differenciate between asians, Middle Eastern, western people.
    2. Locals bleaching skin – applying white make up, blonde wig, coloured lens with fake Brit accent to play role of “gora” in Lollywood is not right. I agree. It makes us racist from their point of view. Same Way when Hollywood plays role of our people with blackened make up makes them racist. Like Leo will do. Instead they must select an actor from the region to play the role of his ethnicity to be more accurate. Recommend

  • SingaporeGirl
    Jun 8, 2016 - 7:20PM

    Saba you did not get my point.

    I am sure Italians have problems with the distortion of their history in Hollywood films. And always some blonde British actor playing a Roman. Europe is a diverse continent, they do not have the same DNA. And when I talked about goras being played by locals I meant that someone like Leo without any cultural background playing Rumi will be as stupid. Hollywood ya lollywood essentially same concept. My point is this casting is wrong because “whiteness’ is not the important thing – whether Afghans are white and Anglo is beside the point. Rather cultural understanding of the role is important, they need to look authentic and I am sure this team does not have it. They should have put in the money and shot locally like Wolf Totem. But this is Hollywood and its not going to change so the best we can do is simply to avoid instead of handing over our money for such productions. Recommend

  • gp65
    Jun 9, 2016 - 2:06AM

    A Britisher acted in and as Gandhi. The movie was great. No Indians had a problem with that. Not understanding what is with this persecution complex.Recommend

  • gp65
    Jun 9, 2016 - 2:10AM

    Who played Lawrence of Arabia? Was it an Arabian? Who played Gandhi? Was it an Indian?Recommend

  • Idiots
    Jun 9, 2016 - 5:07AM

    The muppets saying that Rumi was Afghan need to learn how to read after finishing potty training. He was neither Afghan nor Tajik, but rather Persian. And there are in fact many Persians who look similar or better than Leo DiCaprio, it’s genuinely pitiful that your cultures have so little value that you attempt to steal those of the Persian. Recommend

  • Usman
    Jun 9, 2016 - 10:50AM

    Did all the people complaining about the casting complain when the late Christopher Lee was cast as Jinnah?Recommend

  • Imran
    Jun 9, 2016 - 12:25PM

    @Idiots: Persians are dark. Go see any Arab serials, the will always portray Persians as dark skinned exotic people eg. Mere sultan. Which is true.
    If you see Persian common people (not elites) they have darker skin and features. Persians hate their fat nose and are world famous for highest number of rhinoplasty – plastic surgery to get sharp nose. With plastic surgury, anybody can look Leo.
    Cutting the hyperbole and bragging. Persians look nothin like Leo. This is like saying Chinese have better blonde looking, big eyes Beauties than America. Empty bragging doesn’t work, facts matters.Recommend

  • Gurion
    Jun 9, 2016 - 3:13PM


    Ben Kingsley is Krishna Bhanji, a half-GujrathiRecommend

  • nia
    Jun 9, 2016 - 9:40PM

    Except Indians should have had a problem with it, and should have a problem with it now.

    How many white people would be ok with a movie where say Prince Charles were played by Naseeruddin Shah?? People would only laugh at it.

    And Lawrence of Arabia was a white person (the actor and the real man); a British soldier in Arabia. Sounds like you have not actually seen the movie.Recommend

  • Heeshams
    Jun 9, 2016 - 10:58PM

    Personally, I don’t care about the tone/color of the skin, nobody should, that’s racism. At the contrary having someone as DiCarpio playing the role is a good guarantee of a good final result. I more concerned about the script and how faithful it is going to be than any other thing. Recommend

  • Randomstranger
    Jun 9, 2016 - 11:39PM


    Well he was born in Balkh, Afghanistan. Last time I checked, Balkh was in Northern Afghanistan.

    And “Persians look like Leonardo DiCaprio”? They only look like Leonardo DiCaprio on the internet forums. In reality, they are a rather tanned people, and are visibly darker than some other Asians like Lebanese and Syrians etc. I remember a video showing Kalaash women as “Persian Aryan race”. The insecurity of some members of the said region is hilarious. Recommend

  • Sam
    Jun 10, 2016 - 4:14AM

    Muslims are not just one ethnic group. Persians are proud of their WHITE non-Arab ancestry. Rumi’s references to wine and idolatry make him not really an iconic figure to all Muslims.The movie will get a lot more attention if a world famous actor is the star. If you want the movie to fail and get no attention, go ahead and demand a non-white non-famous person to star in it. If you want more positive attention to Persian culture, stop this crazy anti-Leonardo diCaprio ranting. You are hurting the very cause you claim to be supporting.Recommend

  • Bilal
    Jun 10, 2016 - 5:11AM

    It would be nice to see leo acting as Maulana RumiRecommend

  • Bilal
    Jun 10, 2016 - 5:16AM

    No one is worth to act as Maulana Rumi it would be an insult to him.Recommend

  • Bilal
    Jun 10, 2016 - 5:19AM

    Now they will convince the world thats how rumi was. Do not play with history us mulims have suffered enoughRecommend

  • Sarah Cushman
    Jun 12, 2016 - 9:30PM

    Why does the colour of their skin matter? Surely it’s all about how they act the part. Recommend

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