Arrow News: Another White Guy To Play Ra’s Al Ghul

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Arrow has been really good when it comes to casting people of colour into playing people of colour, but I guess it was too much to ask for a middle eastern actor play Ra’s Al Ghul. We’ve yet to see one play the character on screen at all. The last person to play the lazarus pit using, asskicking, leader of the League of Assassins was Liam Neeson in the Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Liam Neeson is a fantastic actor, but Liam Neeson is very white. Therefore, Liam Neeson was wrong for the role. This time around, Ra’s Al Ghul will be played by Australian actor Matt Nable.

I can’t comment on Matt Nable’s acting skills, like I could with Liam Neeson, but the very fact that he’s white is an automatic NO to his casting. Once again, an instance of whitewashing has occurred. Which breaks my heart. Matt D. Wilson from Comics Alliance wrote a great piece about this casting;

In the comics, Ra’s — whose name is Arabic, meaning “the head of the demon” or “devil” — has always been depicted as distinctly Middle Eastern, with references made to an Arabian homeland and an East Asian ancestry. Like many people from that region and such a background, his skin is commonly olive or dark brown. Like other people from the same region and background, he has also been depicted with pale white skin. Crucially, ever since his debut in 1971, he has been a distinctly non-European, non-western character, and culturally Middle-Eastern.

But in film and TV, Ra’s al Ghul is has pretty much been exclusively depicted as a white westerner.

I was also intrigued by the tweets from Comics Alliance editor, Andy Khouri, who according to Wilson’s piece is himself an Arab-American who grew up in the Middle East and Southeast Asia”. 

I completely agree with Khouri’s observations as to why Arrow’s writers may be trigger shy in regards to casting a middle eastern to play Al Ghul. However, as Khouri pointed out, what does that leave middle easterners in terms of representations? Lack of suitable middle eastern actors to play the role is ridiculous — if you can find middle easterners/arabs to play terrorists then you can someone to play a complex character like Ra’s Al Ghul. Need an example? Faran Tahir is a great start.

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Former senior editor for WWAC. Part-time contributor. BA in criminals (a minor in daydreams). Batman seeks her advice constantly. Bylines at Book Riot, Teen Vogue, Slate, Quill & Quire and Hyperallergic.

4 Comments

  1. Yeesh. AGAIN. And even in the case of Liam Neeson’s casting, it was supposed to be a surprise reveal (I’m sure most Bat-fans went into Begins absolutely sure Liam wasn’t Ra’s because white guy, duh) whereas here they’re just laying it right out there.

    (come to think of it, Ra’s, Talia, reboot!Khan, and The Mandarin all involved some kind of huge bait-and-switch reveal in their respective movies; it’s almost like these producers know depicting villains from that part of the world can be misconstrued, but their only answer is “whitewash ’em”. Rather than, y’know, sticking with the source material and exposing the audience to compelling Middle Eastern/South Asian characters who can be complex and not just stock one-dimensional villains.

    • What’s interesting is that when stereotypes of “scary brown terrorists” or one-note villains are needed, it’s suddenly very easy to find middle-eastern actors to fill the roles. Yet when roles that require nuance and have depth (even if they are villains or especially if they are villains) instead of casting the proper actor they whitewash the character instead.

      When a simplistic antagonist or secondary villain is needed, one that the audience needs not be sympathetic towards, the casting of brown actors is very easy. Yet some of the best roles an actor can take are villainous roles and those seem to never be given to actors of color, even when the source material calls for it.

      Al Ghul is a brilliant antagonist, he’s brilliant, he’s the leader of not only his own shadow organization, but an entire thriving empire, he’s a force to be reckoned with which is what makes him such a great villain and character. It would have been a major step up from the terrorist role (think Zero Dark Thirty) we mostly see middle-eastern actors in.

      Hollywood shouldn’t be using the scared of stereotypes excuse, because if you are able to realize your character is a racist stereotype, then you should also be aware and able to fix it so they’re not. The answer isn’t to avoid casting poc in villainous roles, the answer should be making sure those villain roles are well rounded and three dimensional (like Khan, Taila, Bane, and Al Ghul all are already).

      This video breaks it down brilliantly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IIP6YeTBh8

      • Pretty much summed up nicely in that video. And really, it’s just a matter *constantly* pushing for more representation across the board, so there isn’t even a need to quibble over the handful of villain roles that come around.

  2. I just wanted him to at least look the part. Liam Neeson may have been non-Arab, but he at least had the Ra’s Al Ghul look going on a bit. Matt Nable, after watching the mid-season finale, does not look the part whatsoever. I’m suspending disbelief, but he just looks like a completely different character. Unlike in Nolan’s Batman, who used Ra’s Al Ghul as an ‘ immortal parlor trick’, this one was suppose to be the real deal, Lazarus Pit and all.

    Nothing against Matt Nable, but I’m just not believing he’s Ra’s Al Ghul. He doesn’t resemble any incantation established by DC of any kind, and isn’t that the whole point of having a live action show? Fuck, I might as well watch a cartoon.