tv // trek // surrounded by morons


The new Outrageous Outrage on Tumblr seems to be that Benedict Cumberbatch is white.


(Warning: I'm assuming there will be Star Trek: Into Darkness spoilers in the comments. Or else just me screaming a lot.)
  • Current Mood: cranky pained
I dunno. It feels like whitewashing to me and it's a pretty big problem if it is. I mean, how many movies has Marvel made where the main character is anything but a white guy? So taking an iconic role like that and giving it to basically the whitest of white guys, and later on this summer you have Johnny Depp playing Tonto...

Granted, I haven't seen the film yet (could go tonight, but I should probably be responsible and clean my apartment cos the whole family going into town), and my comments may be partially inspired by the fact that I loathe the BBC Sherlock, but I'm going with Tumblr on this one.
I don't have a dog in this fight Sherlock-wise, and I have some qualms with the casting for the reasons I mentioned in my previous post, but it seems kind of a silly thing to be Outraged(tm) about. Probably because I'm sure that if they'd cast another Mexican/Spanish actor the Outrage(tm) would have been "Oh sure, make the only Latino character the BAD guy."
Yeah, they really can't win, can they? But...they did match all of the others appearance-wise, so why does Kahn get different treatment? :)

I do get your point about Social Justice Warriors on Tumblr. I'm not outraged about this, but it makes me very, very tired.
I adore Benedict Cumberbatch. I adore the BBC Sherlock. He plays what my daughter calls "totally Aspy" (as a kid in the gifted stream, she herself has ADHD and half her friends are on the Aspergers spectrum) like no one else. In my book, he is perfectly qualified to play the slightly unhinged genius.

Now, as for unpacking the tumblr outrage. Noonien Singh Khan. That's the name of the character. Sound Latino to you? Nope. Outrage? Nada. Nick Fury started out white in the comics. Now he's black. Outrage? Nil.

I don't know how many times I've seen stage productions where Shakespearean characters were played by actors of races Elizabethan England barely acknowledged. I've seen Richard II played by a woman (Fiona Shaw). It all works.

In my view, casting should always come down to finding the right actor for the right part, regardless of race. Whether the choice ends up Caucasian, Black, Asian, Hispanic or Aboriginal. Questioning the racial "eligibility" of a black actor to play a (usually) Caucasian character should not be open to question -- but neither should the eligibility of a Caucasian actor to play a character once performed by a Latino one.

One more line about that kid of mine. When she was in daycare (at the United Nations in Vienna) she kept talking about this boy Andy. Finally I asked her to point him out to me. Quoth she, "he's the one in the red shirt." Andy was at that time the only black child in the sandbox. Colourblindness is a thing of beauty.
Questioning the racial "eligibility" of a black actor to play a (usually) Caucasian character should not be open to question but unfortunately it is - see all the fuss over Elementary's Watson being a POC and a woman, for example - and until we have more POCs then replacing the ones we do have with Caucasians, much like replacing the few female characters we have with male characters or disabled characters with abled characters and so on, is a shame.

Cumberbatch is a good actor, he plays the part well, I enjoyed the film, I have no fannish investment in Star Trek. I appreciate that the original character wasn't played by an actor whose race matched the name of the character. I know that people may have been concerned over having a 'villan' being a POC, on top of the guy who does the 'suicide bomb' being a POC, but then I understand that Cumberbatch's character was a 'superior being' the first time around and so whitewashing him is particularly problematic as it suggests that a POC can't be superior.

There's a lot to unpack, and lots of opinions to be had. I think tumblr as a place can often get rather ugly when it gets opinionated, but that's not to say that discussions shouldn't be happening about whitewashing, and other character interpretations. I don't think it's silly to be angry or upset about there being few characters of your race, gender, ability, or anything else in media, because media is a reflection of life and being left out means feeling like you've been written out. Perhaps people would have felt less like that if there were more POCs replacing Caucasion characters or in general.
Yes yes and yes. Imo you can't have it both ways, where it's good to have pocs in "white" roles but the reverse is bad. But then I'm against affirmative action and quotas ;-)
I recognize that the character has Asperger’s, (which I wish they would outright commit to on The Big Bang Theory, but whatever, that’s a different rant for a different day), but I just don’t like the interpretation of Sherlock. There are a lot of problems I have with that show, but Cumberbatch’s acting is not among them.

Actually, there was some outrage over Nick Fury being turned into a black guy, but it was tempered by the fact that Samuel L. Jackson has a hell of a lot of nerd cred. If you want to be really depressed, check out the outrage over Rue being played by a wonderful black actress in The Hunger Games. The uproar over that one (when the character is described as having brown skin in the friggin’ books), over the character not being a tiny blonde, blue-eyed perfect angel, it made me want to quit humanity entirely.

Here’s the issue: in your comment, you’re presenting a scenario that theoretically should work if we lived in an ideal world, but we don’t, so in the end, it’s something of a false equivalency. I applaud your daughter’s color-blindedness, and I wish that were the case elsewhere, but it’s really not. Hollywood is predominantly male and Caucasian. Take a look at the Avengers, the highest grossing film of last year, for all of the your proof that this commonplace. How many of the Avengers are female? 16.67% How many of the Avengers are POC? 0%.

The fact of the matter is that there just aren’t many great roles for persons of color out there, and you can’t “unpack” any argument that includes such a major role being given to a Caucasian actor vs. a POC without acknowledging that there is a system in place that keeps churning out movies like this. Black men get their choice between thug and extra, most of the time. Latina actresses are usually resigned to play maids and other staff. One of my favorite actresses, Jasika Nicole, is half-black and half-white, and I’ve read interviews where she points out that she gets roles because genetics made her “white enough to ‘pass’” for roles that would never go to her coworkers that have darker skin.

So let’s take the Star Trek reboot, which has famously found characters in every major role that resemble the original actors, sometimes to an amazing degree. And they take what’s arguably their most famous villain ever, played by a Latino actor…and they give that role to a white guy that looks nothing like him. I’m not saying every franchise has to be exact in casting (Starbuck being turned into a woman and played by Katee Sackhoff is a change I embrace, and I think they’ve gender-bent Jimmy Olsen in the newest Superman, which makes me so excited, you don’t even know), but I’m saying that this instance, right here, is extremely problematic. And it smacks of Hollywood’s all-white agenda, which is changing for the better, but we’ve got a long way to go before we get there.

edited because I mixed up Prim and Rue

Edited at 2013-05-21 07:38 pm (UTC)
Prim? I think you mean Rue? :-) And yeah when I heard people were complaining about her casting I thought it was a joke :-)
Haha, got it fixed before you replied so it's not stuck that way! I wish it had been a joke. *sighs* Oh, humanity.
It's probably the one thing I could get right about those books. I proceeded to do as much as I could to forget them as soon as I finished them. ;)

You know, if it makes you feel better.
Here’s the issue: in your comment, you’re presenting a scenario that theoretically should work if we lived in an ideal world, but we don’t...

True, but the position I take on these things is one of principle, and yes, those can be inconvenient and at times appear to be unrealistic. My point is, colourblindness must cut both ways if the concept is to have any meaning at all.

Interestingly, Star Trek in its history did more to lift the colour veil than any (or most) other TV show of its era.
It's nice to be principled, but really, I think in this case, the actual reality is the more 'inconvenient' of the two options. Pretending the world is working at its theoretical best and acting as though the solution is an easy one to be reached or should have been reached already pretty much accomplishes nothing. This is not something that's going to just get better without active, involved change.

And you're right, the original series did a lot to lift the color veil, which makes this whitewashing doubly tragic.
I don't think I'm "pretending" anything, nor am I trying to create a reality of any kind. I'm simply stating a position. And that position -- true colourblindness, in all directions -- is part of the change I would like to see. Am I an idealist? Hell, yeah. I spent a good chunk of my professional career as a human rights lawyer and practitioner of international humanitarian law, starting with the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides. Principles are what got me through the nights reading testimonials of what racial and ethnic hatred looks like when fully unleashed.
Maybe I'd be able to take it more seriously if it wasn't always SOMETHING. I understand groups advocating for representation, although personally I don't care if Watson is Asian or female or in a wheelchair. I do have an issue when these same people decry shows for having "too many white people" or critize a show that casts a light-skinned POC because they aren't "authentic". I had an issue with Khan's casting but because of issues of consistency not because the character is some kind of iconic latino role anymore than, say, Robert Ironside (soon to be played by Blair Underwood) or Watson or whoever are "iconic white roles".
I do think that they were damned either way-- naming the villain Khan could be considered bad enough (why make the villain have a Muslim name, is this yet more Islamophobia?), having a man with an Indian/Afghani name played by anyone non-Indian/Afghani (especially when there are so many amazing Indian actors out there, many named Khan in real life!) would have been offensive, having the villain be a PoC fighting (and losing to) the stereotypically Causcasian (blonde hair, blue eyed) Kirk....................they were damned whatever they did.

I must say the easiest option would have been just to NOT have the villain be Khan Noonien Singh- but as a real Khan (Indian) I have to say that I would (perhaps strangely) been more offended by a Latino or African-american actor playing Khan than I am by BC.

Why- because using a PoC who is not Indian simply would have said (to me) that Indians are not good enough to appear in a Hollywood movie.

Lets be honest, the name is enough- for me. And the truth is, Benedict Cumberbatch is (phenotypically) a Khan- pale skin, black hair and green eyes are all very common in Afghanistan (where the name originates from) and in Punjab (where the name Singh originates from).

Indeed, BC has very similar colouring to members of my family (who are Khans).