The controversy of whitewashed casting – hiring white actors to play non-European characters – has been particularly hot lately, particularly with films based on Biblical stories or simply set in the ancient Near East. That controversy was very much on the minds of Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, creators of ABC’s upcoming biblical drama Of Kings and Prophets.
The two were cowriters on Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, a film that was excoriated over its casting when it hit theaters in 2014. That criticism hit Cooper and Collage pretty hard, as they explained during the Of Kings and Prophets panel today at TCA. “We were pretty bruised by how that came out, the criticism about whitewashing is something that matters to us very much,” Cooper said. As a result, they made a point of looking all over the world for Of Kings and Prophets.
“We look for the best cast possible,” said Cooper. “We do it with an eye toward diversity, but also with finding the best cast possible.”
This isn’t the first time in recent history that a network has attempted to tell the story of King David. NBC’s Kings was a 2009 series that updated the setting to modern times with a fictional kingdom modeled on the United States. Of Kings and Prophets is more faithful to the source material, set 3,000 years ago and with religious scholar and author Reza Aslan on board as an executive producer.
“What we’re doing is a faithful a translation, inspired by Samuel 1, one of the great stories of world literature,” said Executive Producer Chris Brancato, adding that “we have, as dramatists, to breathe emotion” into the story. “We have to fill in what we call the negative space, the psychological complexity and motivations of these characters… we’ve sought to make the show modern, to have a modern pulse.”
Even so, the producers said they have actually scaled back the story’s Old Testament violence while maintaining what the mood of what Brancato described as “a non-dragons Game of Thrones.”
Of Kings And Prophets was originally intended to debut on Sunday nights during the Fall 2015 but the pilot was reshot, the show recast, and ultimately rescheduled to the midseason. It will now air Tuesday nights at 10 PM after Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. beginning March 8.
“This show is set 1000 BC, and it needs tender loving care,” said Cooper. “It can’t be put on the traditional pilot track.” Cooper said producers realized the original pilot wasn’t up to snuff, and that the delay and reshoot were very much in keeping with the producers’ wishes.