Why People Are Outraged Over Leonardo DiCaprio's New Role

June 9th 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

A writer and a producer of a film about a 13th-century Persian poet wants blond-haired, blue-eyed Leonardo DiCaprio to play the Muslim icon.

People on social media, who found out the news during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, were not happy about plans to whitewash the role of Jalaluddin al-Rumi.

Artist depiction of Rumi.

Rumi is the best-selling poet in the U.S., according to BBC. Screenwriter David Franzoni and producer Stephen Joel Brown, who also wrote the 2000 hit film "Gladiator," described how important Rumi is to Muslims and Persian culture in an interview with The Guardian.

“He’s like a Shakespeare,” Franzoni told The Guardian. “He’s a character who has enormous talent and worth to his society and his people, and obviously resonates today. Those people are always worth exploring.”

Jalal ad-Din Rumi gathers Sufi mystics.

Although Brown and Franzoni said it was too early to start casting actors for the roles, they would like white actor Leonardo DiCaprio to play Rumi and Robert Downey, Jr., to play Shams of Tabriz, a mystic who was very influential in the Sufi scholar's life. “This is the level of casting that we’re talking about,” Brown told The Guardian. There is no report that either actor has agreed to be in the film.

The casting ideas didn't go over well with Twitter users, including some who were fasting to observe the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. They used the hashtag #RumiWasntWhite to slam the filmmakers' comments.

Many of the tweets echo the fact that Hollywood often fills roles for people of color with white actors.

This year's Academy Awards were overwhelmingly white.

Only two nominees for best picture had lead roles with people of color, and only one nominated director was non-white. The rest were white, and Leonardo DiCaprio was one of them.

Last month, people on Twitter used the hashtag to talk about Hollywood's diversity problem.

George Takei's Facebook account sparked the conversation when it called out the decision to cast white actor Tilda Swinton as a Tibetan character in Marvel's "Doctor Strange." Marvel said that they changed the character's race over fears of apparently offending the Chinese government, according to The New York Times.

"So let me get this straight," Takei's Facebook account posted. "You cast a white actress so you wouldn’t hurt sales…in Asia? This backpedaling is nearly as cringeworthy as the casting. Marvel must think we’re all idiots."

RELATED: What These Actors Had To Say About Their "Whitewashed" Roles