Race row: Ewan McGregor's latest project Son of a Gun has raised some questions over its casting call.
A crime thriller being shot in Western Australia and starring Ewan McGregor has raised eyebrows by issuing a casting call that does little to challenge racial stereotypes.
On February 10, the producers of Son of a Gun issued an urgent casting call on starnow.com seeking extras to portray the roles of "prisoners/gangs", "hired muscle/henchmen", "tactical response group" and "Chinese people".
While the last of those was necessarily limited by ethnicity, the others were not. In theory at least.
But while the police extras were not limited by gender, acting experience or even age, so long as they were a fit adult who could handle a gun, the demands for those on the wrong side of the law were more specific.
For the hired muscle, the producers wanted "Australian, Italian and European gang member/organised crime types". For the prisoners, they were "mainly looking for Aboriginal, Islander, Maori and Middle Eastern males", though there was room too for "tough-looking guys of other nationalities".
Does this amount to a subtle form of racism? According to Gary Paramanathan, director of the Colourfest Film Festival, which focuses on "migrant and diasporic" stories, yes.
"I understand the characters were written this way and the casting director was just following instructions, but the problem lies in the fact it's only the extras and the villains who are from these backgrounds and there's nothing to offset that," he says.
"You never get to find any redeeming qualities in them, they're always relegated to being people you never have any attachment to – and I think that can be projected into reality."
While conceding that many white writers legitimately express reservations about trying to write characters from a non-Anglo background, Paramanathan said that it only highlighted the need for more diversity in terms of the creative talent in the industry.
"Otherwise you risk the stories being exoticised because you don't really have an insight into the true experiences of those characters," he said.
The production company behind the film acknowledged criticism of the perceived racism, saying in a statement: "The casting call was unfortunately worded and needed proper context.
"It is an unfortunate fact that a high proportion of WA prisoners are of Aboriginal descent.
"When the advertisement was placed we had already sourced our prison extras of 'Caucasian' descent (who form the majority of prisoners) ... Finally, it should be noted that overall there are a broad range of nationalities portrayed in Son Of A Gun and practically every character in this film is 'crooked'."
Controversy aside, hopes are high for Son of a Gun, which is the first feature film from writer-director Julius Avery, whose 2008 film Jerrycan won best short at the Australian Film Institute awards and the Berlin Film Festival and collected a jury prize at Cannes.
According to filmink, the feature film "contains all the elements of a classic Greek tragedy", with McGregor playing a criminal who returns to the underworld for one last job.
In announcing funding support for the film in November 2012, Screen Australia summarised it as "a psychological thriller about a young man sent to prison who becomes the apprentice to public enemy number one".
Brenton Thwaites (Home and Away's Stu Henderson), Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (currently in Kiera Knightley's Anna Karenina) and the veteran Polish-Australian actor Jacek Koman also star.
The film is expected to be released next year.