Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio has played a variety of controversial characters over the course of his career, but talk that the actor is being considered to play the part of Jalaluddin al-Rumi — a 13th-century Persian poet and Islamic scholar — has stirred up outrage on social media.
Using the hashtag #RumiWasntWhite, Twitter users reacted with outrage and disappointment after news broke that DiCaprio was being considered for the role.
The outrage stems from a recent Guardian interview with Oscar-winning screenwriter David Franzoni, who confirmed he is working on a biopic about the poet. In the interview, Franzoni said he hopes to cast DiCaprio as Rumi and Robert Downey Jr. as Shams of Tabriz, Rumi’s spiritual adviser who was also an Iranian Muslim.
DiCaprio was born in Los Angeles. His father is half Italian and half German and his mother is half German and half Russian, according to IMDB.
Downey Jr. was born in New York. Robert Downey Sr. is one-half Lithuanian Jewish, one-quarter Hungarian Jewish, and one-quarter Irish, and his mother was a mix of English, Scottish, German, and Swiss-German ancestry, according to IMDB.
Rumi was a Sufi, a discipline of Islam, who was born near the eastern shores of the Persian Empire, which is now Afghanistan. Over a period of about 25 years, he wrote over 70,000 verses of poetry — much of which was inspired by his relationship with Shams. According to a 2014 article from the BBC, he has become one of the best-selling poets in the U.S.
Ironically, Franzoni and producer Stephen Joel Brow told The Guardian they aim to challenge the “stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters in western cinema” in the film.
“He’s like a Shakespeare,” Franzoni said of Rumi. “He’s a character who has enormous talent and worth to his society and his people, and obviously resonates today.”