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Hollywood's diversity problem

2014 has been hailed as the year of the Bible for good reason, per NPR. Action-packed biblical adaptations such as "Son of God" and "Noah" have already hit theaters, and "Exodus" will be released later this year.

Some religious leaders criticize these films for lacking ethnic diversity. Efrem Smith, president of World Impact and author of "The Post-Black and Post-White Church," pointed out that recent biblical films are as white as the 1956 version of "The Ten Commandments" in a recent Religious News Service article.

"When it comes to films on Bible stories and biblical figures, we are going back to the days of Charlton Heston," he said. He added the Bible is a multicultural book, so biblical films should include actors from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

Ari Handel, the co-writer of "Noah," explained in an interview with the High Calling that the film's cast is not diverse because the story "is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn't matter."

"They're supposed to be stand-ins for all people," Handel said. "You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it, or you say, 'Let's make that not a factor, because we're trying to deal with everyman.’ ”

Some were not pleased with Handel's explanation.

"If you want to represent all mankind in a film, then wouldn't it make sense to have a cast that did actually represent all of mankind, in every color and hue, instead of having an all white cast, and telling audiences to just squint their eyes, and pretend that he’s another race, because it's all just a myth after all?" said a writer at Indie Wire. "So black people can't be mythical too? Nope, I guess we're too real, too urban."

Biblical films like "Noah" are not the only movies that do not cast minorities in lead roles; non-biblical Hollywood productions are also overwhelmingly white, according to a recent UCLA study. UCLA's research indicates minorities only secured 10.5 percent of lead roles (in the 172 films studied) in 2011. That means minorities were underrepresented in leading roles by a ratio of 3 to 1, according to researchers.

And the study's authors believe underrepresenting minorities in film is harmful. "When marginalized groups in society are absent from the stories a nation tells about itself inequality is normalized and is more likely to be reinforced over time through our prejudices and practices," they wrote.

Email: kpolatis@deseretnews.com Twitter: KandraPolatis