Is the Assassin’s Creed film already starting out on the wrong foot with white-washing?
It was brought to my attention recently that there’s an Assassin’s Creed movie in the works, which got me a little more excited than I expected. The honest truth is I’ve played maybe two hours of the entire series (which I promise I’m hoping to change very soon). But it’s always intrigued me a ton; the whole idea of the Animus and past-lives, assassins, and the style and art of the game have totally drawn me in.
Even with little experience, I’m pretty stoked about the movie and will definitely be seeing it, especially considering Ubisoft’s allegedly firm stance on retaining creative control. Most of us gamers have been sorely let down by film adaptions of popular franchises, so it’s easy to be cynical on whether or not the film will be worth seeing. I’m hoping it will.
So here’s what I’m not too excited about: they announced the casting of Michael Fassbender apparently as a lead according to this article from Variety. It’s specficially worded as:
“Michael Fassbender was our first choice” to play the franchise’s iconic hooded hero
That’s kind of a let-down, assuming they follow the games and that hero is Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, a very Syrian kind of guy. It’s ironic to make such a casting and then conclude with these sentiments:
By controlling more of the creative through UMP, Ubisoft hopes it doesn’t wind up with another “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,”
Funny, since one of the biggest critisims was that film’s casting of predominately white actors.
I know the subject of white-washing and gender-equality in the video game industry and Hollywood at large is a touchy subject for a lot of people. It’s something that I actually ignored on a whole for many years, but as someone who’s still a gaming-industry hopeful, and a hispanic woman to boot, it’s become pretty important to my life in a lot of ways.
I’ll start by saying I think things are getting a lot better all around. Producers and developers are certainly recognizing the plight of under-represented groups both in terms of consumers and the characters they portray in their franchises. So I do give them props for making an effort to incite some change, albiet a small and slow one.
Assassin’s Creed has a very interesting element in that it spans over many eras and many locations, thus lending itself to some awesome cultural leanings we don’t see too often in games. Of our main assassins, we have Altaïr (fun as hell to say) who is Syrian; Ezio Auditore da Firenze, an Italian noble; and Connor Kenway, the half Native American, half English lead for the upcoming ACIII whose birth name is Ratonhnhaké:ton (have fun with that one). *
That’s really one of the main things I love about this series. The fact that the nationalities of these guys is so diverse also seems pretty intentional, actually, especially considering Connor could have very well just been an American colonial. It makes Desmond, the modern-day decendent of all of them, an ethnic mixing-pot which is realistic considering how common that is modern society.
But that’s also what makes it frustrating that they’d settle with a white actor at all, and especially if he winds up playing Altaïr. And it’s Ubisoft themselves making this choice; so that borders on almost surprising.
I don’t doubt the actor they chose is a good one. I don’t pay attention to Hollywood enough, honestly, so I couldn’t give my opinion either way (I did see Prometheus, and he was wonderfully creepy in it). But I do know there are many great actors of color who would do the role justice, as well, and it bothers me that they’ve seemed to settle on a token white dude for it.
I mean, I get it. Entertainment industries are afraid if you don’t cast a white man as the main character, nobody’s gonna want to see the movie. That is a real concern, but something that also really needs to change, and they can start by trying to have some faith that people will be willing to see a film, play a game, read a book if it’s good and not base everything on race. Tons of people play the AC games. Most of them are probably white. They also don’t seem bothered Altaïr is not.
So here’s a thought; an independently produced film based on an already beloved franchise has a lot of potential to break that mold and still come out on top. Assassin’s Creed has a great story to tell, be it an adaptation of existing stories or adding new lore to the universe, and a lot of fans who will be dedicated to the film if it is done well. Instead of worrying about whether or not people are gonna turn up their nose if you have a brown guy play a brown guy, give consumers some credit. The golden rule is create good content, and people will see it. If Ubi’s really taking creative control, I have no doubt they’ll do their own franchise justice, so I don’t see why they should worry about catering to this mystical rule of lead roles.
Edit: A few additions
* 1) Lovely fellow blogger Verene brought up an important omission that I wasn’t aware of due to my limited knowlege of AC’s story. In addition to the fellas listed above, the protagonist for the upcoming ACIII: Liberation is Aveline, who’s both female and of mixed heritage: French-African. Which, again, feels like deliberate diversity.
2) Since I wrote this this morning, a few discussions cropped up between myself and my wonderful twitter network on the subject. It was pointed out we don’t know for sure whether or not the film will be an adaptation of the existing games / lore or a stand-alone addition to the universe. Which is totally a valid point (made some edits to reflect this). Even so, I stand by my suspicions. This is a franchise that has a precedent for ethnic characters, and while not as bad as white-washing a specific persona, choosing a caucasion lead in this case seems unfitting, at least to me. Your milage may vary, though.
So what do you guys think? Is Assassin’s Creed risking the white-washing problem? Do you think the movie will follow the games at all? Who would you cast as Altaïr and/or Desmond?