There are three things you must know before you read this post:
- I am not a Trekkie.
- I only just saw the first Star Trek movie from 2009 this last weekend. I felt like I needed to in order to watch the sequel.
- I LOVE BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH!!! And he is my only motivation for going to see “Star Trek: Into Darkess”.
Now, as much as I love Benedict, his portrayal of Khan Noonien Singh is QUITE problematic. Here’s the thing, Khan is “…a genetically engineered superhuman Sikh from the Asian continent with Mongol ancestry…”. At least that’s the back-story for the older Star Trek movies. See where I’m going with this? In the movies, “Space Seed” and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, the villain was played by Ricardo Montalbán, who is Mexican. I don’t know anything about casting in the 60s and 80s, and so I cannot speak to the decision to cast him instead of a South Asian actor.
An article on Racebending.com aptly titled, “Star Trek: Into Whiteness” (still LOL-ing at this), discusses this latest case of whitewashing in movies, and cites some others that came before it. E.g. The Mandarin from Iron Man 3, Miranda Tate from Batman Rises, and the whole fiasco of The Last Airbender *eye roll*. One reader shed some light on the casting of Montalbán, reminding people that when “Space Seed” aired, lynchings were still happening and interracial marriages were still illegal in more than half of the country. And so, the casting of Ricardo Montalbán was still a victory. Instead of committing the dastardly crime of yellowface, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek apparently announced on national television that he would not be casting a white actor for that role because, “…if a geneticist took all the best DNA from planet Earth and put it together to make the best human the world has ever seen – he wouldn’t be a white guy.”*
How is it that in 2013, this kind of blatant whitewashing is still common? If the original movie did not feature a white man playing the role of Khan, why would anyone think that making this huge change would go unnoticed? Frankly, it’s insulting…and reeks of supremacism. What the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch says to me, is that the Hollywood honchos think that the white race is still the best race, no matter how hard other ethnicities have fought throughout history to dispute that fact. The stuff that caused chattel slavery, erasure, forceful relocation of indigenous peoples, biological warfare, murder and other horrible things is now available for all to see on that 52ft-wide screen. Okay maybe I’m reaching a little bit, but things like these make me really angry.
Tumblr user rob-anybody has compiled a list of 10 South Asian actors who could have played Khan. Really it was this easy!
In order of appearance: Sendhil Ramamurthy, Naveen Andrews, Sacha Dhawan, Kal Penn, John Abraham, Hrithik Roshan, Akshay Kumar, Arjun Rampal, Aamir Khan and Kabir Bedi.
This isn’t one of those superhero franchises where there’s more than one generation (e.g. The Green Lantern) so what’s the excuse here? One thing I’ve got to say is, if there can be a white Khan, there better damned well be a Spider-Man movie with an ethnic minority in the lead role coming our way soon. Remember when Donald Glover campaigned to be the next Spider-Man and people got all racist about it? Implying that there was NO WAY there could ever be any black kids in existence who are like Peter Parker? Well, that happened. Where are all those
racists nerds who are so concerned about preserving the integrity of the superhero franchises? What have you got to say about this? Or is it not as important because it’s an ethnic minority being erased? Speak up! I can’t hear you!
*might not be a direct quote