It’s no secret that Asian and Asian American representation in Hollywood is severely lacking. It’s rare to find actors and actresses of Asian descent leading major motion pictures or starring in their own shows on American television. But whenever a role or project comes up that would be the perfect opportunity to cast Asians, it seems like more often than not the production will find some way to whitewash the role. Regardless of her star power and box office draw, having Scarlet Johansson play Major Motoko Kusanagi in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is a huge problem since the character is clearly non-white.
But when it comes to Tilda Swinton playing the Ancient One in ‘Doctor Strange,’ Marvel Studios has explained that rather than being a character’s name in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s a title that has been passed down over the years. This reasoning would have been fine on its own, but the House of Ideas is getting into trouble as more people are trying to defend the decision. For instance, when screenwriter C. Robert Cargill weighed in on the controversy, he “whitesplained” himself into a corner with his comments and pop culture icon George Takei has called him out on it.
In a recent Facebook post, the ‘Star Trek’ star (who has also made headlines lately by making his Broadway debut in ‘Allegiance’ at age 79) addressed Cargill’s comments that said the casting decision was partially made to appease China and Chinese audiences that may or may not see the film if the character retained their Tibetan roots:
When a fan pointed out that the Ancient One’s origins have been changed to Kathmandu, Nepal, Takei continued his rant by stating that China probably wouldn’t have cared either way (especially since plenty of films thrive at the Chinese box office without ties to the country):
“It wouldn’t have mattered to the Chinese government by that point whether the character was white or Asian, as it was already in another country. So this is a red herring, and it’s insulting that they expect us to buy their explanation. They cast Tilda because they believe white audiences want to see white faces. Audiences, too, should be aware of how dumb and out of touch the studios think we are.”
Finally, after others pointed out that Marvel Studios weren’t the ones issuing these comments and Cargill later backpedaled to clarify what he said, Takei rightfully stood his ground and got down to the bigger issue at hand:
“All the arguments in the world don’t change the fact that Hollywood offers very few roles to Asian actors, and when one comes along, they hire a white actor to do it, for whatever the reasons. Until that mindset can change, and the studios do something to stop this practice (Remember ‘The Last Airbender’? ‘Aloha’?) I will continue to speak out.”
With May being Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, there’s no better time to to talk about how underrepresented an entire culture is in our media today, especially in the genre that has a history of being inclusive and diverse for the most part. Along with Takei, comedian Margaret Cho and others have taken a stand against whitewashing this week with the hashtag #whitewashedOUT to spotlight the long history of casting white actors in Asian roles. But now that one of the most popular franchises in the world has become a target thanks to ‘Doctor Strange’ and ‘Iron Fist’, maybe people will actually listen.
What do you think about George Takei’s comments about the controversy surrounding ‘Doctor Strange’? Were you disappointed with C. Robert Cargill’s explanation as well? And where do you stand on Tilda Swinton playing the Ancient One? Sound off in the comments below.
‘Doctor Strange’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benedict Wong, and Mads Mikkelsen emerges on this plane on November 4, 2016.
Despite being a “professional writer”, Ben likes run-on sentences and puns far too much. Also, he will never get tired of reminding people that representation matter. For more of his attempts at being funny and the occasional insightful thought, follow him on Twitter and Instagram.