Prince of Persia: The Brother is Brown

As Disney’s “Prince of Persia” is set for release later this week, I’m noticing more people talking about the casting controversy. As I have expressed in my previous posts (here and here), choosing Jake Gyllenhaal to play a brown character is another example of Hollywood’s Orientalist white-washing and ethnocentrism, as well as denying people of color the opportunity to represent themselves. The most common counter-argument I’m hearing is: “Well, ancient Persians were light skinned.” Producer Jerry Bruckheimer even said this, while adding, “The Turks changed all of that.” Ah yes, those bloody Turks and their dark skin! And how convenient for Hollywood, right? I suppose with those “facts,” they can justify the casting of a White actor to play an ancient Persian hero. But wait a minute, why were the ancient Persians in “300” dark skinned? Hmm.

I would like to present examples from the “Prince of Persia” video games to show how the character’s skin color changed over time.

1. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003)

I could write a paper or hold a long discussion about how problematic the cover image above is. The Orientalist fantasy element is quite obvious – note the blue eyes, the Arabic script on his sword (this is supposed to be pre-Islamic Persia), and the Islamic crescents on the minarets. There needs to be an important discussion about masculinity as well (note the bare chest, battle scars), which I will be writing more about in future posts (though perhaps not specifically about “Prince of Persia”). Regardless of these problematic elements, the point is that anyone who played this game knows the character was brown and Middle-Eastern.  The game also features an Indian female character named Farah.  She does not seem to appear in the film and, as of yet, it isn’t certain that any of the South Asian characters will be featured.

2. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (2004)

If there was any doubt about the Prince being brown in the first game, just take a look at how he is depicted in the sequel. In fact, he is darker in this game; brown and Hrithik Roshan-esque, minus the blue eyes. “Warrior Within” also did a better job staying consistent with Zoroastrian/pre-Islamic Persian mythology. I’m guessing someone informed them about it after all of the Arabic in the first game. And of course, the hyper-masculinity and Orientalism needs to be challenged immensely, but my point here is simply about skin color.

3. Prince of Persia: Two Thrones (2005)

Yep. Brown.

4. Prince of Persia (2008)

Whoa. What happened here?

I found this representation to be quite offensive. What’s important to be informed about is that this character is not the same Prince from the previous three games (did I mention they don’t have names?). The creators of the game wanted to explore “another Prince” (who you don’t really learn much about because he has amnesia). The Prince in this game is light-skinned, as you can see. If anything, he looks like he has a summer tan. Though the gameplay is enjoyable and the female character, Elika (who accompanies you the entire game), is dark-skinned, it was a huge disappointment that the Prince looked very White and Euro-American. Arguments that use this game to justify the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal are inaccurate since the film is based on the first game, “The Sands of Time.” Though it does raise an important question as to why this Prince’s skin is lighter than the previous Prince.

Even if there are disputes about the Prince’s skin color, I still do not understand the argument about ancient Persians being light skinned. It simply sounds like an excuse to cover up the fact that a non-Persian was chosen for the role. It is still racebending, white-washing, and Orientalism. And it must be challenged.

UPDATE: Read this hilarious and brilliant article by Arab-American comedian, Dean Obeidallah:  The Prince of Persia was a White Dude?!!

UPDATE 2: Sara Haghdoosti, an Iranian blogger at “The Punch,” has written an excellent piece, Jake Gyllenhaal stole my identity and my video game. Be sure to check it out!

Clarification about skin color: I’m getting some comments about Persians being light-skinned.  I am not disputing this.  I am fully aware that Persians, like many other ethnic groups, range from light skin to dark skin.  This particular post is simply a brief content analysis on the character’s skin color in the video games. I am not saying all Persians are brown; I am saying that the Prince is depicted as brown (see pictures above).  A light-skinned Persian could have been chosen for the role and that would have been fine  I am also not speaking for the Iranian community; I am an advocate for equal and fair opportunity and casting for people of color in general.  I write mostly about the media’s representation of Muslims, South Asians, Afghans, Arabs, Persians, Native Americans, and other ethnic groups.  It is inaccurate to assume or interpret that I am speaking for a community that is not my own.

62 thoughts on “Prince of Persia: The Brother is Brown

  1. I still do not understand the argument about ancient Persians being light skinned.

    Me neither, it’s a lazy and intellectually vapid excuse. My guess is that someone involved in the production of the game got an earful from some diaspora Iranians (or “Pairzhans” as the most obnoxious ones call themselves) about how “ve are vite people, before deh Arab and Tork come and rape Iran and make it dirty brown…” This racist, chauvinist national narrative, while incredibly popular especially in the diaspora but also in Iran, is of course totally inaccurate.

    The most ironic aspect of the whole thing is that pre-Islamic Persians may have been just as dark-skinned, or darker, than they are today. Some argue, “but Persians are Aryans!”, ignorant of the fact that so are most dark-skinned North Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepalese, etc.

  2. Ancient Persians may not be light skinned. Dravidian and Brahui people in Pakistani part of Baluchistan have more or less the same complexions as other north Indians and Pakistanis have. Both Dravidian and Brahui are considered the direct descendants of ancient Indian civilizations. There are pretty fair chances that ancient Persians might be of dark brown color. Turk and Arab, on the other hand, are of light color. So, mixing with them might have made ancient Persians of light color than the darker one. That said, there are more chances that Persians became darker to lighter than the opposite.

    Anyway, in either case it does not justify Caucasian chauvinism in Hollywood.

    1. actually the brahuis are a branch of the dravidians!they come from the dark elamite race who are from ham and shem brahuis are related to the tamils!and as the dark elamites mixed with the farsi people their descendants the dravidians brahuis are doing the same yes the persians are brown as well because of the elamites these have a arabian type of look i am indian muslim with background from iraq both sides two people of farsi background from iran who were sunni imams were Abu Hanifa his family is from faris province in iran not kabul!and Muhammad ibn Jarir at Tabari both tall and dark with black hair there are many turks in iran and punjabis are not persians farsi race have softer features not sharp and jagged!

      1. Abu Hanifa although his great grandfather is from faris province was born in Kufa Iraq! both my grand dads were kurdish farsi not looking like white european neither like hindu sikhs!infact the features are more assyrian or arab

  3. Interestingly, when the Prince got white, his deltoid was transformed into the shape of a shield; and his Left hand wears a glove with talons, held like a weapon for attack, while his deltoid shield flexes for defense.

    Ironically the first Prince has the most natural body and armour–though really piercing blue eyes.

    Hair styles are contemporary and evolving too.

    So putting all those observations together I am coming up with the white guy as the superior fighting machine, and most contemporary. Even someone like myself who only studied the military side of history to maintain my marks in history knows that the one with the most contemporary weapons ultimately wins. Could that be part of the message of the game–and of the current geopolitical game? European /Aryan stock will triumph in this set of wars too? Including over the dark forces in Iran? Many don’t realize Iran is Persia except vaguely, subliminally. Is that the subliminal message for the question of who will triumph in the wars with the current Axis of Evil?

    Eksander, and Usman–I agree with Jehanzeb that your comments add a great deal for those of us who are not as familiar with the history–despite visiting Iran! 🙂 Thanks to both of you!

    Jehanzeb–another excellent post, and inspiring perspective!

  4. I noticed the lack of brown in the trailers for the movie, though I didnt pick up on the evolving or de-evolving, to put it correctly, nature of his skintone in the games. Back in my time, when I used to play the game (on the MasterSystem/Mega Drive games console) he was remotely brown – in a tanned sort of hue.

  5. Many don’t realize Iran is Persia except vaguely, subliminally
    You got that right. A commercial for this came on the other day, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to see it, I snorted and said “no way.” When asked why I said “because Jake Gyllenhaal is not Persian.” My companion’s response was to defensively say “I wasn’t aware Persia was a real place.” When I explained that Persia was Iran, he did a total 180 from his first rebuttal, saying (again very defensively) “so the ancient Persian empire only took up the space of Iran?” Which of course led into a whole explanation of no, of course not, but those other lands were not inhabited by Persians, Persians are from Iran.

    It’s amazing how defensive some of my fellow white people will get when someone suggests that perhaps white people should not be portraying people of color in films/on TV. The argument always seems to be “but there aren’t any actors of [race] who are well-known enough/will make enough money!” Because the big-name studio’s profits are so important to Joe Schmoe from Ohio. Actors don’t become well-known by magic, they become well-known through…acting. And in a film like this one, which will already have a built-in audience due to the fact that it’s based on a popular video game, they could have cast a less-popular or even unknown Iranian-American (or Iranian-Iranian) actor and still made a ton of money. It’d be a Harry Potter-ish situation–hardly anyone knew Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, or Emma Watson when the first Harry Potter film was made, but they were cast because they were British adolescents who looked right for their parts. And if I remember correctly, there was a bit of hand-wringing at that time about Rowling’s insistence on using an all-British cast and filming in Britain–how would it play in America? But if you’re dealing with material that’s already extremely popular, the actors don’t have to be Jake Gyllenhaal-level popular. You can use unknowns who better suit the parts and still draw the crowds.

    Gah, I’m ranty.

    1. I think the issue is risk on video game movies. Historically not many of them have been successful or good. Do I need to point out at the Super Mario Bros movie? Terrible movie and not at all successful. Also, the fanbase is not all there. The last Prince of Persia was not as successful as it was expected. Lots of my friends who happen to be girls don’t know the Prince of Persia: Sands of time trilogy games. They were all surprised when I complained that it doesn’t feature lots of the mechanics of the game and that the story (based on the trailer seemed not at all related to the game, only the fact that the dagger reverses time). They originally thought it was a book I had read. They needed a well known actor that girls can gaga over to see, my friends were all like oooh Jake looks good. I mean it is opening against the girliest of girly movies, Sex and the City 2. I mean Disney is taking a big risk on this if the movie tanks at the box office. For Harry Potter, I don’t know any well known children actors who have English accents.

      I do believe though that a more controlled budget and an actual Persian would make more sense,especially if they followed the source material and not changed it.

  6. Hi! It’s great to find your site! I was reading an article about the new movie which mentioned this blog and so searched it out. 🙂

    I am not Iranian, but have been married to an Iranian man for many years. So I’m interested in this subject based on that fact, not on any interest at all in the games or movie! Ha, ha!

    In any case, as to whether Persians/Iranians are Caucasians or “people of color”…I always understood, as mentioned by a poster above, that the ancient Persians migrated approximately 4,000 years ago from the area of Russia and the Caucasus; I also know that Farsi is derived from the Indo-European family of languages. This would seem to indicate that, at least originally, the first Persians were Caucasians.

    However, over the eons, there has been so much mixing between various ethnic groups in the area that I think it is most likely impossible now to make any blanket statements about Persians’ ethnicity/race.

    Perhaps it matters to you, but it does not to me, except that it is an interesting subject. My mother is a geneticist, and I believe that a couple of large genetic studies have been done by more than one prominent geneticist on this very issue. You might find them interesting.

    My husband looks very “Persian,” i.e., his appearance is not at all Arabic but resembles much more closely the true Persian “look.” He is, though, as light-skinned as I am, with light hazel eyes; he appears “dark” only due to his quite dark hair, his thick dark eyebrows and long dark lashes, and his dark body hair.

    The older of our two sons has inherited those beautiful eyelashes, along with blue-gray eyes! Women have gone crazy for him since he was a baby; he is strikingly gorgeous now at age fourteen. He definitely looks like a mixture of the two of us, but all credit for those eyes goes to my husband! He tells me, by the way, that he does have some relatives with blue eyes, so I know it can occur in Iran.

    In any case, people are people; all are of equal worth. Skin color has no bearing on a person’s value. All that matters to me is whether someone is a good human being with integrity, morals and values, or is not. I approach each person I meet first and foremost as an individual and do not judge him on superficial qualities. It is really so simple.

    Again, I’m happy to have found your blog, and will read more of it as time permits…

  7. Admin Note: Your comment was deleted because it does not fit within the guidelines of my comment policy. You’re welcome to express your views, but personal attacks directed at the author or readers will not be tolerated. It’s quite high school-ish.

  8. Katya :

    In any case, as to whether Persians/Iranians are Caucasians or “people of color”…I always understood, as mentioned by a poster above, that the ancient Persians migrated approximately 4,000 years ago from the area of Russia and the Caucasus; I also know that Farsi is derived from the Indo-European family of languages. This would seem to indicate that, at least originally, the first Persians were Caucasians.

    My mother is a geneticist, and I believe that a couple of large genetic studies have been done by more than one prominent geneticist on this very issue. You might find them interesting.

    Actually the history also suggests otherwise. Some scholars suggests that Persian king Cyrus the Great might be the king name Dhul-Qarnayn in Quran who went to Caucasus and Asia minor to fight some warrior tribes. So there are as many hypothesis of Persian migrating to Caucuses than Caucasian migrating into Persia. And not only Farsi, but Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and many other South Asian languages are also Indo Aryan languages. That said nothing you mentioned suggest anything strongly about the origin of Persian people.

    As for the “Genetic study”, let me tell you that some “Genetic studies” also suggest that Yusufzai tribe of Pashtun people is lost tribe of Judah!! A hypothesis, if accepted will make some Taliban, the distant relatives of People of Israel. Something which many people in West will not find comfortable 🙂

    Bottom line; we should not play vague hypothesize to defend Hollywood against it’s chauvinist attitude

    1. The original farsi race is not white they are middle eastern in features Imam Muhammad ibn Jarir at Tabari said the faris race comes from the son of Shem Lud who married the daughter of Japheth Shakbah faris people have soft features straight noses while many other indo aryan races have very sharp jagged faces

  9. Hey CLOWN, I am white and I am 100% Persian. Why are you so desperate to portray Persians as dark-skinned Arabs? Are there dark Iranians? Of Course, but there are also blond Iranians and MANY Iranians who look very similar to Jake Gyllenhaal – that is a slightly more tanned WHITE with dark hair. Maybe you’re happy with the Persian depiction in 300? Either BLACK or just monsters.

    You make a mockery out of actual racist casting in Hollywood. When Hollywood, as they often do, portray Persians as full-on BLACK, you don’t utter a word. I wonder why?

    Now I see you’re agreeing with this other clown, Usman, that the Turks and Arabs LIGHTENED the Persian complexion?! Fucking morons.

    Read this essay by Dr. Kaveh Farrokh – it is his analysis of the portrayal of Persians in the Movie 300 and ancient Persians in general. Stop inciting ignorance and making a mockery of your own history – Hollywood already does plenty of that without your help.

    1. Mehryar,

      I’m not really a clown. And I wasn’t trying to make any jokes in this post. You seem to be missing the point: look at the Prince from the video game. He is dark-skinned. I know there are lighter-skinned Persians, but that still doesn’t address the issue of a non-Persian being cast as the Prince.

      This post is about fair representation and opportunity for people of color in the entertainment industry. There are a lot of Persian and South Asian actors looking for jobs (there are South Asian characters in the game, particularly the female lead). It is not fair to them that White people are chosen to portray them.

      As for “300,” you need to explore my blog. I wrote an extensive critique of that film here:

      You also need to ask why the ancient Persians in “300” were portrayed by brown people? Why are White people playing them in “Prince of Persia?” Because now the characters are good guys?

      Before you comment again, you need to refrain from making personal attacks. Calling people “clowns” and “fucking morons” will not be tolerated on my blog. Read my comment policy for more details. I’m letting you slide this one time, but if you resort to personal attacks again, I will delete your comments.

      Keep it civil and mature. Cursing people off not only loses you respect, but it makes your argument less credible. Thanks!

    2. original persians were not blond yes there are many turks in iran and also many persians married white europeans infact the ones who look white do not look persian in features and there are ones even if their hair is brown still have persian features the arabs are a very fair color to dusky

    3. Ancient persians were never blond or nordic europid looking..your moron. This is typicall stupid persians who belive that the aryan theory is bases on Hitlers ideal…blonde hair blue eyes n white skinned. I m a persian myself but contrast to u I stick to the facts. Not white supremacy thoughts your stupid fool.

  10. Two things, Mr. Dar.

    Usman’s comment about the Turks and Arabs “whitening” Persian people is moronic – I’m not going into a thesis about genetic markers, linguistics and historic demography. You sound to me like you are agreeing with this ridiculous hypothesis or at least giving it some credence.

    Secondly, you make all Iranians sound clownish and whiny when you complain that a “white” actor is playing a “brown” Persian character. Jake Gyllenhaal looks perfectly acceptable as a Persian. He is a slightly more tanned caucasian with dark hair – this describes most Iranians I know. I am certainly not “brown” as you seem to insist Persians are supposed to be. And please… do you actually expect Hollywood to cast an unknown Iranian actor in the lead role of a blockbuster movie? Jake Gyllenhaal is a major star and will attract a legion of fans to this movie – something an unknown Persian actor would not do. If there was an Iranian actor that was a major box office draw, then you might have a point.

    I also have to question what your definition of a “brown” skinned person is. The character art that you provide above look to me to be a Caucasian man in various states of cleanliness and different lighting conditions. NONE of them look “brown” to me – as none of them should look brown, since Persians are predominantly Caucasian to olive complexion. As for the excessive Orientalism, Arabism and Islamization (in regards to pre-Islamic Persia), I wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately, it’s nothing new in the West to confuse Persian and Arab culture and history. In some ways, your insistence on representing Persians as some monolithic Middle Eastern “brown” people probably adds to this confusion.

    I don’t want anyone to think that I think any lower of “brown” people, because I don’t. I want, for ONCE, some ACCURACY in how my people are represented in Hollywood movies. After the racist debacle of 300, casting Jake Gyllenhaal as the Prince of Persia is a vast improvement. Complaining about it makes all Iranians sound like whiners.

    1. Mehryar,

      The issue is not whether or not he *looks* Persian. It’s the fact that a non-Persian was chosen for the role. The same thing is happening with “The Last Airbender” which featured heroes of color in the show. The cast for the protagonists were completely white-washed. It’s like saying people of color cannot play heroes. That’s the point.

      Do you know how many Persian and South Asian actors there are in the US? And do you know how many “no-named” actors became stars in Hollywood? There are up-and-coming stars all the time, as I said before.

      As for Persians not being brown, what do you think of Maz Jobrani’s new DVD, which is titled “Brown and Friendly?” (And I’m not saying this to deny the Persians who are light-skinned).

      As for the facts presented by Eskander and Usman about skin color, I admit that I don’t have enough knowledge to comment on that. But I think they make points and arguments that are worth looking into.

      If you are happy with the movie, then that’s your choice. But when you make arguments that support the film industry, you’re supporting the economic aspect of it. Cinema is supposed to be about art and the fact that characters need to be whitewashed says a lot about what our society values.

      And I’m not speaking for Iranians either. I never said that anywhere. I’m speaking as a fan of the video game and someone who believes in equal representation for people of color. Have you played the video game? There are both Persian and South Asian characters.

  11. Mehryar,

    Nobody in this blogosphere has ever walked away calling me “clown” and “moron” while not receiving his share of treatment from me. But since Jehanzeb happens to be quite strict and sensitive over his blog policy, I’m having hard time responding in my usual manner. But then you don’t deserve any eloquent and descent response either.

    What Jehanzeb, Eskander and me are explaining is quite clear. And everybody with even adequate communication skills can understand the underlying point. What I am saying is that, Persian/Iranians are always of the same color as they are today. Nobody has darken or whiten them. And if somebody is suggesting that Turk and Arab made Iranian whiter then he is wrong since Turk and and Arabs are as white as are Iranians. Hence mixing with them can’t make Iranian “darker”. They(Iranian) may became more whiter but not darker. In fact Turk are much whiter than Iranians.

    You feel comfortable with the notion that no Iranian deserved to play the role of prince and a Western Caucasian had to represent you in Hollywood.

  12. Usman,

    This is what you previously wrote:

    “There are pretty fair chances that ancient Persians might be of dark brown color. Turk and Arab, on the other hand, are of light color. So, mixing with them might have made ancient Persians of light color than the darker one. That said, there are more chances that Persians became darker to lighter than the opposite.”

    And now you say this:

    “And if somebody is suggesting that Turk and Arab made Iranian whiter then he is wrong since Turk and and Arabs are as white as are Iranians.”

    I’ll let people judge your words for themselves.

    There is no evidence that ancient Persians were anything other than Caucasians. The evidence is available from various Greek and Roman sources. There were darker peoples in the nations that comprised the Achaemenian Empire, including Black Ethiopians, but they were not Persian or Median. If you’re interested in historical context, read this essay from Dr. Kaveh Farokh, where he thoroughly discusses the historic record:

    For the record, I have not seen Prince of Persia yet and I have not played the game since the 90’s version. I’m sure it will be very Ali-Baba and confuse Persia with Babylon – this is common in anything having to do with Persia in the West.

    1. Mehryar:

      But then again, how can we tell when one race has begun and ended? The very concept of “race” is an obsolete one. Color is only skin deep: there are a lot of blonde and white Arabs and Turks too and some can even look very “persian” but aren’t.

      This whole argument about race is really missing the point though as how a lot of commenters and Jehanzeb himself have repeated: how come a Persian, or even anyone from such adjacent regions, not be able to represent themselves? How come they can’t be heros in contrast to how the “Persians” in 300 were depicted as the “bad guys”? This also makes fun of the “whites” themselves saying that they won’t watch or enjoy a movie unless someone from among themselves is the hero or is a celebrity. And I’m sure that that fame had a beginning did it not? Why can’t that beginning be given to those who Iranian who can proudly represent themselves?

      1. Reema,

        My only point to Mr. Dar was that casting a tanned Jake Gyllenhaal as a Persian is ESTHETICALLY acceptable. I mentioned several times that Iranians come in all shades – from lily white to brown. Mr. Dar seems to have a strange need to represent Iranians as “Brown” people and considers the casting of Gyllenhaal as racist! Presumably, because he feels Gyllenhaal is “too white”. I argue that this makes Iranians look silly – especially considering the 300 uproar from a couple years ago. His own character art clearly shows a caucasian man that MR. Dar deems “brown”.

        Lets not be naive as to the way capitalism works in America – the movie studios simply make more money when they cast major stars in their high-cost blockbuster movies. As much as I would LOVE for there to be an Iranian-American actor to play this role, they would have to cast an “unknown” Persian actor. This is just not the way Hollywood works – for better or worst.

        300 was a flat out racist movie. The Persians were portrayed as Black, Brown, Gay, perverts and Monsters – apparently, in order to make them more “evil” opposite the Nordic, blond Greeks. Casting a PASSABLY Persian-looking Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia can hardly be considered “racist” in this context.


  13. Hello, Usman —

    Thanks for your reply to my comment. You state that “nothing [I] mentioned suggests anything strongly about the origin of Persian people.”

    I agree with you! And that’s because I don’t *have* all the answers! It’s a complex question and I’m not going to be a blowhard and throw my opinions about in the hopes of intimidating people into believing what I have to say. I wasn’t trying to *prove* a thing, only wishing to enter the discussion and perhaps contribute a little something to it.

    As far as the genetic aspect of the issue goes, I just thought that some people here might be interested in following up on that…

    I’m not interested in arguing with anyone, trying to “one-up” anyone or attempting to prove my knowledge on a subject. I just like intellectual discourse, and I see that there are a number of interesting and intelligent people here whose opinions and knowledge on various subjects might interest me and with whom I might enjoy holding “conversations.”

    I don’t know if your info is right or wrong, but I am nevertheless happy to read it, think about it, perhaps research a bit more, and further form my ideas. So thanks for your input. 🙂

    1. Hello Kaya,

      Thanks for your follow up. I am not interested in playing any theory of origin either. I am just trying to counter such theories.

      I think most of us agree that, Black should represent Black, Brown should represent brown and Asian should represent Asian character in TV, Hollywood or in theater.

  14. Hello, Mehryar —

    I only discovered this blog yesterday, but it seems to me that Jehanzeb is of Pakistani, not Persian, descent. I say this in reference to your comment that he “makes all Iranians sound clownish and whiny when [he] complains…”

    I happen to agree with you that Persians are Caucasians, based on my admittedly scant research on and knowledge of the subject. However, I am of course not the last word on the question, and the more I look for answers, the more complex and murky the whole thing seems to become.

    As everyone knows, or should, the whole region has for thousands of years seen numerous different ethnic groups travel through the area, settle there, and conquer and be conquered. So much mixing has occurred that I think it’s difficult to say with any assurance exactly what traits make up a “Persian,” even though I think I know one when I see one! 🙂

    The first time I saw my husband, I knew immediately that he was Iranian, and not from any other country in the Middle East. I have always been interested in anthropology, geography, cultures and languages, something I learned from my dad, so perhaps subconsciously I had internalized more knowledge than I realized.

    However, if anyone had asked me specifically to list what made my husband look Persian to me, it wouldn’t have been
    easy to do. I suppose I would have mentioned his beautiful eyes, with their long lashes, his curly dark hair, and his nose, which to me is “typically” Persian. Most Americans, in my experience, though, would not have been able to distinguish him from any other Middle Eastern people. As a matter of fact, over the years, people have thought he might be Spanish, Italian, Hispanic, and even French! 🙂

    Anyway, this is all a very interesting subject, but my bottom line is that race should be immaterial; I’m not naive enough, however, to think that it ever will be. *Sigh…*

    Oh, and it’s just my opinion, but I don’t think Jake Gyllenhaal looks Persian. It’s not his “color,” but more his features, I think.

    1. Katya,

      Thank you for all of your comments and readership! You’re most welcome here on my blog! The point I was making on skin color in this particular post was based on what I have seen in the video games. The first three video games clearly show that the Prince had dark complexion.

      My second point is that even if we take skin color out of the equation (since Iranians are diverse in skin color, just like many other groups of people in the world), the fact of the matter is that a non-Persian was cast to play the lead. It’s not so much about Jake “looking” Persian to me, it’s just that a man who doesn’t self-identify as Persian is chosen. As a fan of the game, I was disappointed because it would have been awesome to see someone who really self-identifies as Iranian to play the part.

      It doesn’t make sense to me why the ancient Persians in “300” were portrayed by people of color — as if to say that dark skin is associated with evil.

      There are those who are saying, “well no one is going to see the movie if there isn’t a star in the leading role.” Well, that reveals something about the industry as well as our society, right? Think about the Persian-American and South Asian-American actors who are struggling to find non-stereotypical roles to play.

  15. Mehryar,

    You’re repeating the same argument again. I already addressed the issue about skin color. I personally don’t know how you can see the video game’s depiction of the “Prince” as White, but skin color aside, the point is that a non-Persian was chosen for the role. A non-South Asian was also cast as the female lead.

    I never said that Iranians should be portrayed as Brown. You need to read my post again if you’re going to keep making that accusation. My argument was simply based on a content analysis of the video game. Also, you never answered my question about Persian-American and South Asian-American actors in the US who are looking for jobs and opportunities to play non-stereotypical roles.

    I’m not going to engage in a cyclical debate. I have answered and responded to your points and arguments in previous comments, so please try to stay on point.

  16. Salaam, Jehanzeb —

    Thank you so much for your warm welcome! I appreciate it very much.

    Once I discovered your blog, it did not take long for me to consider you extremely intelligent, articulate, open-minded and provocative (in the sense of stimulating and encouraging intelligent discussion and debate, let me hasten to add! :)). I hope to be a regular reader and contributor.

    I think I read somewhere here that you are interested in film and film-making. I completely agree with your main point — that it would be ideal if an Iranian were chosen to play the Prince, since in the game he is *supposed* to be Persian! I am not sure how many Persian-American actors there are, but there have got to be some who could’ve been considered for the role. Hollywood also could have chosen an Iranian who lives in another country…

    You also say, “It doesn’t make sense to me why the ancient Persians in ‘300’ were portrayed by people of color–as if to say that dark skin is associated with evil.”

    Even your sentence gives me chills. To associate light with good and dark with evil is to begin a slide down a very slippery and dangerous slope.

    I’m not particularly interested in the great majority of Hollywood movies, but I certainly agree that actors of all types should have a chance at choice roles. It should be a much more level playing field, I think.


  17. As I commented at greater length on your The Prince is not Persian post, it seems that this film is a “tent pole production” one in which a great deal if investment occurs, then mega-marketing so that it can serve as the financial support–like the tent pole of the circus Big Top–for the whole studio. This means all decisions are made even more in terms of financial considerations than the usual Hollywood fare. It seems to explain why big name, big box office draw actors had to be cast, particularly in the principle roles.

    That would seem to be the multi-fold problem: films designed by finances only, white selling better (at least in this case) and casting based on racial appearance. Ben Kingsley seems to be the exception–but is Sir Ben Kingsley and a big box office draw.

    Also the characters speak with “recognizably British accents” with a “Middle Eastern colour”. Odd choice, including of the use of the word colour to describe an accent (in the wiki entry at least–not sure about the official promo materials).

  18. Off topic: Jehanzeb–I keep going to moderation, even when I have no links. Perhaps it is because I am using a new email address after the one I usually comment with here was hacked. Maybe you can reset something to accept this new one and not the old. Thanks. Chiara

    1. Hi Chiara!

      I actually changed the comment settings since I was getting a lot of hate mail and some borderline death threats. It’s better if I keep the comments on moderation for a little while (until things cool down a bit). Thanks for your comments and thoughts, as always!

      I’ve spoken to several people who have the same problem with the film. They say, while Ben Kingsley is half-Indian, he is still cast as the villain (and the same is true for Dev Patel’s character in “The Last Airbender”). I agree with them.

      1. Thanks Jehanzeb. I have Acute Traumatic Hacking Stress Disorder! LOL 🙂

        I am so sorry that people are so vicious. Truly pathetic.

        I always enjoy your posts and the high quality of the comments.

        Keep up the great moderating! 🙂

      2. But in the cartoons [SPOILER ALERT], Dev Patel´s character is a good guy and teaches fire-bending to Avatar. In the original, his character looks actually Japanese, so why a South Asian is portraying it?[/SPOILER ALERT]

  19. ok heres the deal with the west and hollywood portraying persians. it all goes back to the greeks and persians when alexander won. history is written by the victors always. since the west is ‘greek washed’ persians are the demon enemys. every movie with ancient persians shows as dark dark skinned monsters. especially 300 which is a fucking piece of garbage in every sense. ancient persians wer light and dark, greeks wer light and dark. hey man hollywood is white wat can you do about it ?? im just glad that finally thers a movie that does the persians some justice and dusnt show em as blak monsters or watever, although ther are and was blak iranis now and then in iran. they wernt persian but still were upstanding iranians. go to iran today ull find iranis that look pale white like brits all the way to dark kenyan type complexions. also its said persians came from perseus of argos, so they cud hav been greek color watever that was. dont forget the dark egyptians who were the 1st civilization

    1. “hey man hollywood is white wat can you do about it”

      That’s like telling an African-American actor in the early 1900s that there’s nothing s/he can do about white actors performing in blackface. There is nothing wrong with advocating for fair and equal casting, especially for actors who are Iranian, Arab, South Asian, East Asian, etc. and looking for non-stereotypical roles in mainstream Hollywood cinema.

      Changes can be made. People can make differences. We shouldn’t have to conform to the status quo, especially when inequalities are involved.

  20. Admin Note: Your comment was deleted because it did not fit within the comment guidelines of this blog. Immature and baseless accusations will not be tolerated. Accusing those who criticize racial inequality and/or race-bending in mainstream Hollywood films of being “racist” is a classic example of the “reverse racism” fallacy. Please educate yourself on it and learn how to engage in respectful dialogue.

  21. Okay, I can’t take it anymore. Reading all these twisted lies is getting on my nerves. Uzman, Husayn, Katya, and especially you, Mehryar, are all wrong. First of all, the construct of Caucasian is a made up classification invented by crack-pot European Imperialists who wanted to white-wash anything and everything as white. There is no science behind lumping Middle Easterners, South Asians or North Africans with Europeans. And lumping North Africans with whites is glossing over demographic changes that have occurred in that region since North Africa was originally black like any other part of Africa. It kills me when I hear Middle Easterners and Indians treat these false, out-dated classifications as the gospel truth. Perhaps I shouldn’t say outdated since that would imply that there was a time when it was legitimate.

    Mehryar, you’re a white-supremacist. You’re tone and combative manner betray you. Blonde Arabs? White light-eyed Iranians? Nordic-looking Pashtuns? I don’t doubt it since you’re counterparts post that nonsense everywhere on Youtube. You’re arrogant behind needs to know the truth so I’ll give it to you straight: European features in the Middle East and North Africa are from European slaves. You see, white people were sold around the world as slaves just like black people. This is a fact and not debatable. Europeans were sold to Arabia, North Africa, Iran –Iran had such a HUGE demand for European slaves in the Middle Ages that one European writer postulated that they would change the face of Iran. You can read this in Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People. –as far away as Mongolia and everywhere in between. Since white academia keeps the full extent of white slavery hush hush, they can pass of these European genes as “evidence” that civilizations such as the Persians were “Caucasoid” and allow white-wannabes such as yourself to get away with claiming these features as indigenous.

    I am DISGUSTED when I hear Arabs, Iranians, Indians and Middle Easterners clamor to appropriate these European features as native to their race. Had these been African features in these weird, far out-of-the-way places, your ilk would IMMEDIATELY disown them as belonging to “black slaves” and would feel no compunction to site evidence of such. But have blonde hair and blue eyes be found in Afghanistan and it’s cited with pride as local features. Slave mentality at its worst.

  22. Arabs are light-skinned? You all must not have seen real Arabs from the Gulf which is where real Arabs reside. “Arabs” outside the Arabian Peninsula are merely Arabized people who call themselves “Arab” due to being members of the Arab League — a political organization. The Arabic language was spread by conquest and politics. Do not think of the mixed race peoples of the Levant as the true Arabs. Real Arabs are located in the Gulf and are brown-skinned, dark-eyed and dark haired people with unambiguous features. And when you see Khaleejis that look otherwise please understand that the Gulf has had its own share of intermingling with foreigners, especially with that ubiquitous race that we now call white people.

    And what’s with this nonsense that Turks are white??? You all would not be confusing Eastern European IMMIGRANTS to Turkey as the real Turks, now would you? Surely you all are smarter than that. The people that Turkey is named after came from Central Asia and LOOK Asian. They don’t look Mediterranean and certainly do NOT look white. Think of Uzbeks and Kazakhstanis to get an idea.

    The notion of a Caucasoid race is no truer than the Aryan race, Dravidian race, white Hamites or life on Mars. The very notion of race itself is a social construct.Two of you would have a heart-attack if you were to see what Ancient Civilizations really looked like. Alas, all these lies! Oy! They’re enough to give you a headache.

  23. Mast Qalander, you sound like a very level-headed intelligent person, unlike some on this thread. Here are some links of Ancient Artwork from Mesopotamia and Ancient Persia.


    Ancient Persia

    Don’t sleep. It get’s clearer. Scroll ALL the way down.

    Some say that these are the Elamites, but they just may be the Persians. People need to understand that these reliefs were originally painted. They were not meant to be plain and colorless. Intact paint is the enemy of white anthropology which hides these kinds of ancient artwork so they can substitute it with their counterfeit white-washed Orientalist paintings and Hollywood depictions! I suggest than Iranians take a good hard look at the evidence and consider that they just may not be the Persians. Arabs in Egypt claim they’re the Ancient Egyptians and vehemently deny that Ancient Egypt was African. But they’re not the Ancient Egyptians, I’ll tell you that right now. Likewise Iraqis are not the Babylonians. Nor are Lebonese the Phoenicians. LOL!

    Claiming ancient civilizations may bolster one’s pride and seem romantic, but it’s a false pride if it’s not true. Middle Easterners seem to have a very hard grasp on this and I blame European Colonialists for miseducating the populace with their simplistic conclusions. Demographics can and have changed. Wars, travel, migration, desentergration through intermarriage and genocide mean that some ancient peoples no longer exist. They’re extinct. Trouble is that white Hollywood depictions have taken root so deeply in Middle Eastern psyches, and white beauty has enchanted them so much that they WANT to believe that their ancestors looked white. Look how people here see Arabs as a quasi-white race and real Arabs are still here! They’re hidden in plain sight. Partly by people wanting to ignore them, and partly by racist Hollywood copycats that each Third World nation is plagued with: white-wannabe film and entertainment industries who make their people invisible through media.

  24. Hanan – Thank you so much for your insightful comments! I agree, it is really frustrating when Arabs, Iranians, and South Asians try to find some way to prove that they are “white.” This reveals a lot about European colonialism and the destructive impact internalized racism has on these communities.

    After I wrote several posts about “Prince of Persia,” I read a brilliant piece by Reza Zia-Ebrahimi that discusses self-Orientalization and the Aryan myth (which still gets perpetuated, unfortunately):

    Thank you for the links! I will check them out soon! Also, I’m sorry for the delay in approving your comments. I was away from my blog for a couple days!

  25. Hi, I would like to make some comments as I am persian and know a lot of persians. First of all, as a persian I had no problem with the prince of persia cast and neither did my sister and my persian friends that saw it. why? because we are caucasian and many of us like myself and my sister are “white” in colour. In fact I had blonde hair as a kid and have people in my family with red hair and pale as irish people. Iran is a huge country with many ethnicities also and we have persiand and azeris in the north and west that are white looking as europeans and we also have dark arab looking people in the south and brown iranians such as balouchis in the east. so you can’t say persians are “brown” or dark. would you rather have a pakistani looking or indian looking guy play the prince of persia?? would that represent most persians better? I find this pretty racist to be honest. when black people were playing persians in 300 and they made xerxes look like a tribal guy from the amazon no one complained about that but when you have a jake gylenhal play a persian in 300 it’s racist?? jake has dark hair in the movie and his skin is pretty tan i’m persian and I have brown hair and pale skin and caucasian features should I paint my skin brown and try to look more arab, pakistani or indian etc to look like what some people stereotype persians to look like??

    I find some of the comments here ridiculous. iranians and persians may not be europeans we are west asians and many of us are racially white as in white skinned caucasians and there was nothing wrong with prince of persia it was not like they depicted persians as blonde scandinavian looking people most of them had black or dark brown hair. and again about the eye colour green and blue eyes are actually pretty common in northern iran, more common than light or blonde hair.

    and this is a hollywood movie. you always get greeks played by anglo saxons and jews playing italians, italians playing jews etc. it’s funny that some poeple here think that a pakistani, indian or arab playing an iranian wouldn’t be racist against persians but a european playing a persian is racist! lol. persians are not semites like arabs and we are also not south asians like pakistanis and indians and again we are mostly caucasians. without any real persian actors the next closest actor to us would be southern euro looking actor versus arabic looking or indian looking actors to play persians. and jake in the movie does in fact look pretty persian.

    have a good day.

  26. also I would like to say that as a Persian I don’t consider myself a white european. a lot of people seem to use “white” to mean european culture and tradition. so culturally we are our own thing. persian culture is not the same as arab or indian or turkish we have a unique culture that of course shares things with other cultures.

    however if we are talking about phenotype and race many persians and iranians like myself are “white” people always refer to me as white. people often don’t understand that white and european are not the same thing. I am not european culturally or ethnically but i’m white in race. that is hard to debate. when I look in the mirror I see a white person and other people also see me as white. a “brown” person would never consider me as “brown” but white people consider me “white” so that is what I identify with. but race is not important to me, I see myself as persian, not european, not brown, not arab/middle eastern.

    1. Hi Kayvan,

      I believe everything I wanted to say has been said already. This isn’t about Jake “looking” Persian or phenotype (which I clarified in my post). After all, racism is not restricted to biology or phenotype, but rather the way in which bodies are marked as “racial Others” and linked with racialized cultures, lands, traditions, stereotypes, etc.

      That’s fine if you think Jake looks Persian. I have no problem with anyone saying that. However, it doesn’t change the fact that Jake is NOT Persian. My main argument here is: what’s wrong with casting a Persian actor when there are so many talented actors of Persian descent who are trying to land non-stereotypical roles in Hollywood? Imagine if you were an aspiring actor in Hollywood and all the roles you were offered were stereotypical ones.

      As for the rest of your comment, I will simply refer you to reading Hanan’s comments above. Oh, and when you said “no one complained” about the demonization of Persians in “300,” you’re quite mistaken there. There was an uproar over “300” and I actually wrote an extensive critique of it on my blog. Search my blog and check out my post.

      Take care.

  27. I can’t believe how stupid and shallow minded some people are! who cares if we were dark or light skinned? This is 2011 and soon the world is going to be so mixed, with the dark gene being stronger. I understand that we Iranians have to an extent lost our identity and are finding it hard to find our place in the world but please understand that our skin colour is not our identity, it’s our character and rich culture and you know what? race is a word we have created to name a category of VISUAL characteristics of a man. The civilized world recognises that now and we Iranians really need to remember what racism and nationalism has led to in the past. Besides the only reason that many Asians and Africans (the easily influenced ones of course) believe that being light is more beautiful is because of the European brainwash and influence for so many years. God is fair and he did not discriminate. All people are beautiful in their own way and if you can’t see it then it’s your ugly heart and lazy mind’s fault. Get over it my fellow Persians. No one cares about who we were before. What matters is who we are today and God will not judge us in categories of race so stop being so shallow and sad. with love xx

    1. LOL, you talk about Love, but then call people “stupid” for diligently critiquing the casting of this film. You seemed to have missed my disclaimer about skin color at the bottom of the post.

      Of course all human beings are equal, regardless of skin color, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, etc. But the world doesn’t operate like that. There are still racial hierarchies and racism still exists – which is why people are still doing so much incredible work to speak out against it.

      If all human beings are treated equally, then why wasn’t an Iranian actor selected to play the title role? After all, the issue isn’t about skin color, but rather the fact that Jake Gyllenhaal is not of Persian descent. How can you not see the double standards in Hollywood when, in a movie like “300,” Persians are played by all people of color and horrible demonized? But when a protagonist is Persian, a white actor must play the part. This is textbook Orientalism. You should do your research and read the articles from the site, “” Also, you need to think about the actors of Persian, Arab, and South Asian descent who are working very hard to land these heroic roles. You should communicate with them and find out how difficult it is for them to find non-stereotypical roles. Skin color doesn’t matter, right? Of course it doesn’t matter, but due to systematic racism, these actors are struggling to find work. Anyone who cares about equality of all human beings should at least be upset about that.

  28. It’s just down to the looks. Unfortunately the dark brows and sunken eyes of the Persian make them look furtive. People make assumptions about a person from their looks and as far as an audience for a film is concerned: heroes don’t look like rapists. Countries where women have had more freedom historically to choose their spouses have come to produce more elegant looks, which is why the scandinavian people are generally regarded as the most beautiful.

    In the early days of the ampitheatre; the Janus mask was used to indicate to the audience what they were supposed to feel about a character on the stage. Even now in live theatre make-up is symbolically used to indicate a character’s character: But film is much more intimate.

    The camera reaches much closer into the expression and the image must be much more subtle. The race of a character now fills the function of the Janus mask; The black represents the chaotic and savage, the White represents good and pure or the beauty, the Jew represents greed, the oriental represents unusual or exotic wisdom, the Arab represents that which desires power or is untrustworthy, the Asian represents hard work and industriousness. Watch any Disney movie it’s all there in glorious technicolor.

    Stereotypes exist for a reason.

  29. Admin Note: Your comment was deleted because it contained immature and racist attacks against the author. “Arabized Pakistani”? Seriously? How do you make such an accusation when you don’t even know me? Please review the comment policy on this blog. It’s an online forum, there’s no need for personal attacks and anti-Muslim attitudes.

    As for Iranians being “Aryan,” I suggest you read this article:

  30. It is strange that there is such a bias in the entertainment industry against people of colour.

    Maybe it is possible to see the problem through the lens of capitalism.

    On a purely production-side view, it would make sense for entertainment studios to recruit actors based only on their talent and merits, yet we often see casts where the protagonists are often of a light complexion and where antagonists are more often than not of a dark complexion. On the demand side, however, any producer has to hope that their products would appeal to the market, i.e, to society. Society has its own prejudices and socially-imprinted notion of what is “beautiful” or “correct”, so those biases are considered when producers make their product, even if the actors (and actresses? Or do you prefer non-gendered wording?) are not exactly the most talented (Justin Bieber comes to mind).

    So I guess it is plausible that capitalism feeds racism, because on the consumption end of the equation it panders to society’s engrained prejudices.

  31. The truth is light(white/red) skin is a minority in the earth. Applying light skin to all the images of visual media is a form of brainwashing in favor of light skin. In India it’s very rare to see a darker complexion actress and the majority of Indians have darker skin. When you look at Egyptian artwork you’ll find that the ancients were a darker skin race now Egypt is not. Although most recent Egyptians aren’t so by blood but by location. Even the original Hebrews were a dark skin people but are always depicted as white in visual media.

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