Chiwetel Ejiofor: Racial and gender discrimination needs to be 'attacked' (exclusive)

For centuries, Mary Magdalene was long considered a prostitute and repentant sinner because of an assumption made by Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th Century. It wasn’t until 1969 when the Catholic Church redeemed her of these labels, and now a movie of her life with Jesus is headed to cinemas.

Rooney Mara takes the lead in new biblical epic Mary Magdalene, which feels especially resonant given the expansion of the #MeToo movement and the growing support of the Time’s Up campaign, which demands better treatment of women in the workplace and beyond.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays the Apostle Peter in Mary Magdalene, says the story of Mary certainly feels urgent in this current climate.

Rooney Mara plays Mary Magdalene in this biblical biopic (Universal)
Rooney Mara plays Mary Magdalene in this biblical biopic (Universal)

“That was one of the things that was a very important part of the script and it felt very urgent and necessary,” the actor told Yahoo Movies UK.

“I didn’t have as much of an understanding of Mary Magdalene and the real story of [her] that was in the script.

“I then had to do a bit of research myself and figure out that I was completely ignorant of the real story of this much maligned woman in history, and how relevant that is to now and women in film, and women in cinema, and stories that are led by women in cinema.

Chiwetel Ejiofor in <em>Mary Magdalene</em> (Universal)
Chiwetel Ejiofor in Mary Magdalene (Universal)

“It felt very urgent at the time of reading it and it feels even more urgent now,” Ejiofor said.

The fight for gender equality certainly goes hand-in-hand with racial equality and as a person of colour, the British actor is aware that both areas need to be discussed and discrimination “attacked.”

“I think that any form of discrimination needs to be looked at and attacked,” he said. “I think the whole movement of everything is about human respect, it’s about equality and about justice and making sure that those things are part of our discussion in cinema but generally and moving into our society as a whole.

“I don’t know about pitching everything against each other; I don’t know about pitching racial arguments against gender arguments and so on and so forth,” Ejiofor continued.

“I don’t know how helpful that is. I think that it’s important that we strive for equality in our society.”

His co-star Tahar Rahim, who plays Judas in the Garth Davis-directed movie, says that the film industry is changing to be more inclusive of non-white actors like him.

“I don’t think that cinema has a proper nationality; that’s the way I am, that’s the way I live, that’s the way I pick projects,” Rahim said. “But I have to say if I haven’t shot in Hollywood or America before it’s because the part was not interesting and it was a bit type-casted.

“Now it’s changing and I think it tells a lot about what we’re living today and our society is changing. It’s good.”

Mary Magdalene is in cinemas this Friday March 16

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