The Coen Brothers Defend The Mostly White Cast In ‘Hail Caesar!’

Filmmakers Joel David Coen and Ethan Jesse Coen – more commonly known as the Coen brothers – have defended their movie Hail, Caesar! from critics blasting its all-white cast.

In an interview with The Daily Beast’s Jen Yamato, the Coens criticized what they saw as their detractors’ ignorance towards the movie-making process.

“You don’t sit down and write a story and say, ‘I’m going to write a story that involves four black people, three Jews, and a dog,’—right?” said the elder Coen. “That’s not how stories get written.”

Younger brother Ethan also chimed in, telling Yamato that it was important for a writer to tell his or her story “in the right way, which might involve black people or people of whatever heritage or ethnicity—or it might not.”

Joel also took aim at the #OscarsSoWhite movement and the importance it projected on the Oscars.

“The Oscars are not that important,” he opined. “By making such a big deal, you’re assuming that these things really matter. I don’t think they even matter much from an economic point of view. So yes, it’s true—and it’s also true that it’s escalating the whole subject to a level it doesn’t actually deserve.”

Joel and Ethan Coen did not hesitate to express their support for Hollywood diversity, though.

“Diversity matters,” said Joel Coen, and it is “not an illegitimate thing to say there should be more diversity in an industry… ”

Hail, Caesar! takes place in 1950s Hollywood and tells the story of a real life “fixer” named Eddie Mannix, who is trying to figure out what happened to a cast member.

The movie features an all-star ensemble including George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, and a dancing (but fully-clothed) Channing Tatum. It opened in theaters on February 6.

George Clooney and his wife at the premiere of Hail Caesar!
Critics have generally received Hail, Caesar! favorably. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 79 percent rating and its Critics’ consensus is that the movie was “packed with period detail” and “perfectly cast.”

Some critics, however, could not look past the film’s monochromatic cast, especially in the midst of Hollywood’s controversy over racial diversity.

One of them was Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post.

Though she hailed the film for its “added benefit of brilliantly questioning the realities and norms that the Dream Factory so reliably churns out,” she also lamented that Hail, Caesar! “inhabits a virtually all-white world, a fact made glaringly salient by the Oscars controversy and Clooney’s recent observation in Variety that the movie industry is ‘moving in the wrong direction’ when it comes to casting actors of color.”

Yamato also had her issues with the film, saying that Hail, Caesar! featured little diversity in its talent with the exception of “a handful of nameless Asian waitresses” and Veronica Osorio, who plays Carlotta Valdez.

However, other members of the media stood behind Joel and Ethan Coen.

Robby Soave of lauded the Coens’ statements as “shockingly honest, given that they seem likely to provoke the wrath of the social media left.”

Sonny Bunch of The Washington Free Beacon agreed with the duo on the ridiculousness of race quotas in movies. While Bunch admitted he was “not entirely unsympathetic to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign” he had no such sympathy for what he described as the “insidious” and “lame” notion that movies should have a “racial checklist” that “must be ticked in order to avoid censure.”

No such checklist exists yet; however, calls for racial diversity in Hollywood have grown deafeningly loud in short period of time, and they show no signs of abating.

Who knows? Before the decade is over, the Coens might just need that checklist.

[Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images]