Tag Archives: Doctor Strange

“Doctor Strange” puts Mordo on the villain’s path for no reason

Marvel Studios

With Thanksgiving comes Thanksgiving trips to the movie theater, and on one such trip, I was treated to a showing of Doctor Strange. As you well know if you’re a constant reader of this site, Doctor Strange isn’t well liked around these parts, and for good reason—whitewashing and using a pan-Asian cultural motif as a backdrop for non-Asian characters.

Doctor Strange is a confounding movie, partly because if it weren’t for the outstanding cultural criticisms and controversy, it actually has the bones of a decent film.  We’re only one movie-deep into Marvel’s Phase Three (Captain America: Civil War was the first one), but Doctor Strange showed the confident and daring direction Marvel plans on taking its films in the future. Now that we’ve introduced Marvel’s version of a Time Lord, we’re going to see much more boldness and boundary-pushing from the franchise. Overall, it’s great to see Marvel so confident with their chosen direction.

Also, Doctor Strange‘s score is by Michael Giacchino, who has quickly become a favorite for me. Due to The Lion King, I’ve always been a fan of Hans Zimmer’s brass-heavy scores, and because John Williams is so ingrained in movie culture—he even did the soundtrack for Home Alone, for goodness’ sake!—I respect his lengthy body of work, despite his composing style sometimes leaving too much of a light, airy atmosphere for my liking. However Giacchino is like the wonderful compromise between Zimmer’s boldness and punch and Williams’ cerebral qualities. In short, Giacchino creates scores that are fun, uplifting (see: Star Trek Beyond‘s “Night on the Yorktown”), tongue-in-cheek, yet dark, mysterious, and sometimes even sexy (perfect example of sexy Giacchino—The Incredibles‘ “Off to Work” and “Lava in the Afternoon”).

However, that is where my compliments for the movie stop. I have quite a lot of gripes with the film, and it’s time I let them out, in my favorite form—a bulleted list.

• The whitewashing is more egregious in person: After having analyzed the film for several weeks, I already knew the biggest issue in the film was Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. That issue was compounded by C. Robert Cargill, the co-writer of the film, sticking in his ill-advised two cents about Tibetan-Chinese politics as the reasoning for a white Ancient One.

But it’s one thing to write about the whitewashing and it’s another to actually see it with your own eyes. The problems in this film abound. First, you have Swinton. Not only is she The Ancient One, but she’s effectively a spiritual ruler of Nepal. An old Celtic woman is the spiritual ruler of a non-Celtic, non-white people. Fascinating.

Let’s also talk about what Nepal looks like. The film portrayed Nepal as some mystical place without roads or modern transportation. Everyone looked like they were mere seconds away from getting on their knees to pray. Religion might be a huge part of a country, but that doesn’t mean everyone in the country have to look like devotees. The film shows a side of Nepal that looks like this:

Kathmandu, Nepal--Asan Tole Market by Juan Antonio F. Segal (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu, Nepal–Asan Tole Market by Juan Antonio F. Segal (Flickr/Creative Commons)

This picture looks similar to the types of crowds Stephen Strange came upon as he was looking for The Ancient One. But Nepal also looks like this:

Shiddha Pokhari by Dhilung Kirat "This centuries old pond is situated at Dudhpati-17 the entrance of the ancient city Bhaktapur. This 275m×92m pond was built in the early fifteenth century during the reign of King Yakshya Malla. It is considered as the most ancient pond in Bhaktapur which is known to have many myths associated to it. Nowadays, the pond of both religious and archeological importance has been one of the popular hangout and dating destinations in Kathmandu valley." (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Shiddha Pokhari by Dhilung Kirat
“This centuries old pond is situated at Dudhpati-17 the entrance of the ancient city Bhaktapur. This 275m×92m pond was built in the early fifteenth century during the reign of King Yakshya Malla. It is considered as the most ancient pond in Bhaktapur which is known to have many myths associated to it. Nowadays, the pond of both religious and archeological importance has been one of the popular hangout and dating destinations in Kathmandu valley.”
(Flickr/Creative Commons)

 

Kathmandu Valley Sunset by Mike Behnken (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu Valley Sunset by Mike Behnken (Flickr/Creative Commons)

 

Kathmandu , Nepal,Himalayas,Everest by ilkerender (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu , Nepal,Himalayas,Everest by ilkerender (Flickr/Creative Commons)

 

Boats at Lake Phewa in Pokhara, Nepal by Mario Micklisch (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Boats at Lake Phewa in Pokhara, Nepal by Mario Micklisch (Flickr/Creative Commons)

 

Nepal, Kathmandu, Boudhanath by SCILLA KIM (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Nepal, Kathmandu, Boudhanath by SCILLA KIM (Flickr/Creative Commons)

The point is there’s a lot more to Nepal, to just Kathmandu, than the film suggests. Is there time to visit every locale in Nepal? Of course not. But there was enough time to not give Nepal the “noble savage” treatment, which means, according to Wikipedia:

A noble savage is a literary stock character who embodies the concept of an idealized indigene, outsider, or “other” who has not been “corrupted” by civilization, and therefore symbolizes humanity’s innate goodness. In English, the phrase first appeared in the 17th century in John Dryden‘s heroic play The Conquest of Granada (1672), wherein it was used in reference to newly created man. “Savage” at that time could mean “wild beast” as well as “wild man”.[2] The phrase later became identified with the idealized picture of “nature’s gentleman”, which was an aspect of 18th-century sentimentalism. The noble savage achieved prominence as an oxymoronic rhetorical device after 1851, when used sarcastically as the title for a satirical essay by English novelist Charles Dickens, whom some believe may have wished to disassociate himself from what he viewed as the “feminine” sentimentality of 18th and early 19th-century romantic primitivism.[a] 

Even though the film didn’t have any of the extras speak, it clearly showcased Kathmandu as an idealistically mystical, Othered space, with closeups on holy men and temples. The extras also weren’t wearing Western clothes, something that further separated them from actual depictions of 21st century Nepalese people. Western exports have made their way all around the globe, including Nepal, and as you can see in the above pictures, folks are wearing leather jackets, hoodies, polo shirts, slacks and jeans. Even the woman with the shawl on in the first picture is wearing Westernized sandals, a long-sleeved red shirt and some green pants, and one of the men buying her wares, the guy with the leather jacket, has an iPod. If you took a shot of the extras in the Kathmandu sequence and put it in black and white, it could act as a shot from a film about Nepal in the 1800s, not the 21st century. This is not to say that portraying Nepalese people wearing traditional clothing is anachronistic; what I am saying is that painting a picture of the Nepalese as a people who haven’t been affected by world commerce and capitalism is a false picture.

The “noble savage” idea wasn’t explicit, but it was very subtly implied in order to make Kathmandu seem like a perfect place for The Ancient One and to act as further contrast to Stephen’s New York sensibilities and, indeed, his whiteness.

•The Ancient One is full of crock. Let’s get back to The Ancient One. She’s full of shit.

Sorry to be so blunt and for cursing, but she really is. She was using the dark magic that she forbade her disciples from using to lengthen her own life. She would say she was doing it to protect the earth, but she was actually doing it because of her fear of death. In essence, this makes the big bad, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), actually right about her. So, yes, he’s evil for invoking the intergalactic demon Dormammu in an attempt to take over the world, but just because he’s evil doesn’t mean he’s an idiot. What it does mean is The Ancient One’s hypocrisy is what turned him, a devoted disciple, into a disillusioned mess. Can we talk about how he was crying crocodile tears while spreading the “gospel” about the demon to Stephen while chained up in that suit-harness-thing? To me, it evoked scenes from Thor, in which Loki is crying while hating Thor for being the chosen one; Loki might be the “evil one,” but Loki is also psychologically damaged, simply looking for unconditional love from the Odin, the man whose supposed to be his father. Doesn’t that sound a little like Kaecilius’ dilemma?

 

Marvel Studios

Kaecilius might have gone to the dark side, but, like Loki, he was a conflicted soul who was looking for answers after the person he idolized failed him. If there was a way The Ancient One could have reeled him back in, she should have done it, especially since she already knew how powerful and skilled he was. But the thing that could have possibly swayed him—her giving up her Dormammu powers—was something she wasn’t going to part with. So Kaecilius probably figured, “If she’s going to use them, then why shouldn’t I?” Basically, this whole movie’s plot (minus Stephen’s accident) is her fault.

Also, The Ancient One was just giving out powers willy nilly. She gave Benjamin Bratt’s character Jonathan Pangborn the ability to walk again after a paralyzing accident. She was giving Stephen powers to use his hands again. She herself was bending time to stay alive. She made it seem like she was a benevolent master, but she was just as reckless with her powers as she claimed Stephen was and as Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo warned against. Just like Strange, she was using her powers outside the natural order of things.

The Ancient One with the mark of Dormammu on her forehead. (Marvel Studios)

•Mordo is the only one who makes sense, and yet they’re building him up as the villain. How in the heck is Mordo supposed to be the villain, when Mordo is the only one who is keeping the world from being torn apart by Strange’s time meddling?

The Ancient One seemed to suggest that Mordo as a stickler for the rules was something that kept him from being great, or even being a master. I vehemently disagree. It’s Mordo’s insistence to stick by the natural order that made him supremely capable of being the master of the New York Sanctum. Mordo is right 100 percent that the laws of nature shouldn’t be tampered with, and yet it’s the hotshot white guy with a sarcastic mouth who gets to be the new Master. Are you kidding me?

Marvel Studios

Look, Stephen knew how to pick up magic fast. But isn’t Mordo owed something for being The Ancient One’s right hand for so many years? Had he not proven himself? To me, all this smacks of is the person of color being more qualified for a role that ends up going to the white guy who just got to the office a month ago. It smacks of the favoritism and tribalism that exists in society today. It’s why black people often tell their kids they have to be twice as good as their white counterparts in order to get half of the reward. It also smacks of a very white American, imperialistic view point of “We do what we want and get rewarded for it because we’re rebels!” Rebels don’t always need to be applauded. Just take a look at the Confederates.

If the next films present Mordo as the bad guy, I’ll be squarely on Mordo’s side. I know the argument is going to be, “But Doctor Strange helped save the world with his time-bending!” Sure. But Mordo was ready to save the world with his plan. He had his own way of saving the world, and it didn’t involve standing on the razor’s edge of an infinite loop of time, shredding the time-space continuum indefinitely. It involved fighting honestly and bravely and finding a solution that, as Spock would say, didn’t destroy the Prime Directive, and isn’t that how heroes are supposed to fight?

The end of the film sets up a very alarming status quo, something that also comes from real life. Just as the model minority myth wants to put Asian people at the feet of white supremacy and opposed to blackness, Doctor Strange sees Stephen and Wong (played by Benedict Wong) together, fighting evil on Stephen’s own terms, while Mordo decides to cast himself out, pitting himself against Stephen’s way of doing things. Doctor Strange‘s message seems to unconsciously be, “If only Mordo would do things Stephen’s way, just like Wong! Things would be so much easier.” Similarly, it’s like some people in real life thinking, “If only black people would do things our way, just like those industrious Asian people! Things would be so much easier!”

Marvel Studios

• The women in this film are strangely lacking: As the internet has said, it would have been better, much better, if someone like Michelle Yeoh was cast as The Ancient One. Making The Ancient One Celtic in a roundabout way to not create an Asian cariacature only complicated matters; all that was needed was to not create an Asian cariacture. If Yeoh played The Ancient One just as the character was written for Swinton, everything would have been fine; there wouldn’t have been any cariacture lines crossed.

With that said, it seems like this role as a whole would have been a waste of talents for Yeoh anyways. For all of the hooplah about The Ancient One being a “strong female character,” she barely did anything, at least not as much as the hype suggested. She participated in two battles with Kaecilius, and in the second one she was graphically fatally wounded. But we don’t see her do much else outside of instruct Strange, and even then, Mordo picks up where The Ancient One would sometimes leave off. In the end, The Ancient One was yet another woman in the comic book movie universe that has to die for the man’s journey to be fulfilled, so how progressive was her role, really?

Similarly, Rachel McAdams’s Christine is just another love interest, and somehow, she’s even less written than Rachel in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films or Natalie Portman’s Jane in the Thor movies. All Christine is there for is to be a battering ram for Strange’s emotional outbursts and as the soft, mothering angel he can come to after he’s changed his ways. McAdams did the best she could with such a thin character, but Christine was barely a character to begin with.

Marvel Studios

Lessons learned:  At the end of the day, it seems like Doctor Strange has proven to be a learning ground for the parties involved, or at the very least, for the director, Scott Derrickson. In a very honest interview with The Daily Beast‘s Jen Yamato, he gave an apology for his version of sidestepping the Asian caricature issue, a version which ended up being just as damaging if not more so. He said that he can’t be mad at those who are opposed to viewing the film.

“I don’t feel [the film’s opponents] are wrong. I was very aware of the racial issues that I was dealing with. But I didn’t really understand the level of pain that’s out there, for people who grew up with movies like I did but didn’t see their own faces up there.”

Seeing how he said he was already aware of the issue of Asian caricature, this was a case of someone believing they had all the knowledge necessary to solve a problem simply because they were “aware” of the issues. This film is a prime example of why creators need to reach out to people of color when making media that squarely affects a particular racial group. Maybe he should have contacted an Asian writer, producer, or actor in the industry for advice. Maybe he and Cargill could have asked Marvel to sign off on an Asian writer to share the co-billing with them; an Asian writer’s perspective could have only helped the film and made the film more respectful to the audiences they were trying not to offend. Hindsight offers a lot of solutions.

But along with Derrickson, if anyone needs to take stock in those solutions, it’s Marvel. Already, Iron Fist has caused a lot of pain with the main character, a character that could be race-bent to give Asian American audiences much needed visibility. Instead, the Asian visibility is coming from the villain and secondary characters, with Iron Fist set up to be yet another white male character who learns “ancient” and “mystical” ways from an Asian teacher.

Thankfully, we have Spider-Man: Homecoming coming up, which is providing Filipino-American and Chinese-American visibility as well as black female visibility. Hopefully Spider-Man, Black Panther, with it’s all-black main cast, and Thor: Ragnarok, which is directed by Indigenous director Taika Waititi, will be the jumping-off point for Marvel films with more representation and more sensitivity to its subject matter and audience demographics.

Being Asian in Hollywood: Actors, directors, and creators talk representation

(Top row, from left) Sinakhone Keodara, Jodi Long, Asia Jackson, Kesav Wable. (Bottom row from left) Quentin Lee, Mandeep Sethi, Kunjue Li, Chris Tashima. (Photos: IMDB, Twitter, Kesavmwable.com)
(Top row, from left) Sinakhone Keodara, Jodi Long, Asia Jackson, Kesav Wable. (Bottom row from left) Quentin Lee, Mandeep Sethi, Kunjue Li, Chris Tashima. (Photos: IMDB, Twitter, Kesavmwable.com)

Representation in Hollywood is an issue by itself, but Asian representation in Hollywood is near non-existent. With the state of Hollywood being that black equates to “diversity” (despite there being more types of diversity out there than just being black) and Asian characters are still overrun with stereotypes or whitewashing, Asian actors and actresses have had a tough uphill battle in breaking through the glass ceiling.

JUST ADD COLOR is all about exploring how all types of diversity are showcased in Hollywood, so I thought it would be fantastic to have an ongoing series called POC in Hollywood. First up, the Asian American experience in Hollywood. In this longform piece, we’ll take a closer look at some of the issues and biases plaguing Asian creatives in Hollywood.

This is a longform, so if you’d like to jump to specific parts, here’s the table of contents:

Whiteness as the default

IMDB
IMDB

Historically, Hollywood has used Asian locales and people as props, while white characters are given layered characteristics. In short, white characters have been treated as humans, while everyone and everything else are only developed in stereotypes.

The most recent examples of this include The Birth of the Dragon, in which a white character is used to frame Bruce Lee’s biopic, Doctor Strange, which sees Tilda Swinton playing an Asian role and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, which is a white character used to exploit a stereotypical Asian mysticism, Ghost in the Shell, which uses Japanese culture to frame Scarlett Johansson as The Major and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel series, which features India as a backdrop for white characters and Dev Patel playing a stereotypical Indian character.

“What’s particularly silly about The Birth of the Dragon is that they invented a fictional white character thinking that that would be what North American audience would want,” wrote Quentin Lee, The Unbidden director and founder of Margin Films in an email interview. “The filmmakers obviously fell flat on their faces. Not only it wasn’t historically accurate for the story, the film ended up insulting Bruce Lee and the audience who would support it. It was a creative misfire.”

Chris Tashima, an Academy-winning director for the 1998 short film Visas and Virtue and co-founder of Cedar Grove Productions, wrote that while he hasn’t seen The Birth of the Dragon yet, he found the basis of the film “ridiculous.”

“It’s understandable, why this has been the practice—being that traditionally, decision makers have been white males, and like anyone else, will want to see stories about themselves, and that audiences have traditionally been thought of as young, white males,” he wrote. “However, all of that is changing. It has been changing for a while, and it’s easy to see where it’s going: towards a diverse world. That’s an old practice and you’d think Hollywood would want to project, and put themselves on the cutting edge, and be more inclusive. It’s old, and tired, and more and more, I think audiences will want to see something different, something more truthful.”

“I think the overarching theme that runs through how Hollywood/the West represents POCs has to do with the ease with which they are able to strip POCs of agency over their own stories,” wrote Kesav Wable, Brooklyn-based actor, writer, 2011 HBO American Black Film Festival finalist for his short film, For Flow and Sundance lab short-listed screenwriter for a script about a Pakistani boxer wrongfully accused of planning a terror attack.

“This may come across as a bit exaggerated or radical, but I do believe that there is a link between white imperialist concepts such as ‘manifest destiny’ and ‘white man’s burden,’ which validated a lot of the literal takings from POCs that happened throughout earlier periods in civilized history, and now, in a media-hungry world where information, content, and stories are the most valuable currencies, there is an analogous “taking” of the narratives that POCs have lived through. By depicting POC characters through the lens of a white character, it enables white audiences to keep POCs’ stories at arm’s length, and to not completely empathize with those characters because they are not given the complete human dignity and complexity that is afforded the white character.”

“Perhaps, this, in a way, damps down the guilt that white audiences may feel if the POCs stories/circumstances have to do with the literal takings that were exacted by their ancestors. Or it’s just good for a cheap laugh. The truly insidious effect of POCs being usurped from their own narratives is that, even many of us POCs begin to start viewing things through a white lens and stop questioning whether these stories truly represent who we are because of how pervasive white-controlled media is.”

Wable used the upcoming film Happy End, which is about a bourgeois European family living amid the current refugee crisis. “Granted, I haven’t seen the film, so it’d be presumptive of me to conclude that refugees are not conferred with dignity/complexity as characters, but the very thought that French filmmakers think that shining a light on a bourgeois family with the refugee crisis as a ‘backdrop’ can be instructive about their world, speaks volumes about what it is white people are most interested in; themselves,” he wrote. “In this case, apparently, the context is a rueful rumination on their own blindness to the refugees’ plight. Somehow the irony of the very film’s existence as a manifestation of that blindness seems to be lost on them.”

Mandeep Sethi, filmmaker and emcee, also discussed about Hollywood’s tendencies to erase non-white people from their own stories. “I think centralizing POC stories around white characters is Hollywood’s way of taking a black or brown story and making it about white people,” he said. “Our culture is full of amazing stories and histories and Hollywood loves to cherry pick what they like but leave out the real nitty gritty including the people who created, interacted, and setup that story.”

Dev Patel in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. (Twentieth Century Fox/IMDB)
Dev Patel in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. (Twentieth Century Fox/IMDB)

Sinakhone Keodara, founder CEO of Asian Entertainment Television and host of Asian Entertainment Tonight, wrote that Hollywood’s penchant for using whiteness as a default is “a heinous tradition that is long overdue for a change.”

“Rather than trying to normalize Asian presence on screen to a wide American audience, Hollywood often goes the tired, well-worn and ‘safe’ route of using a white character in an attempt to more easily relate the character to a majority white American audience.  It’s cheap and unnecessary, because the proper and more effective way of relating a character to an audience is writing a character with emotional depth,” he said. “Ethnicity informs and colors our individual and community experiences, but emotion transcends ethnic boundaries.  With political correctness aside, Hollywood needs to stop engaging in a form of neo-emotional and neo-psychological colonialism against people of color, especially Asians by injecting whiteness into our stories.”

“I think that centralizing PoC stories around white characters is always going to happen as long as the people telling these stories are white,” wrote Asia Jackson, an actress, model and content creator. “What Hollywood needs is not only diversity on-camera, but to also make greater efforts to allow filmmakers of color to tell their own stories.”

Jodi Long, an actress who was a castmember of the first Asian American TV sitcom All-American Girl and member of the actors branch of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, wrote that while whiteness as the default is the reality in Hollywood, a study shows a much needed change in film. “I just saw a new study The Inclusion Quotient done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media where the reality in terms of box office is changing, where women and diverse actors in lead roles are now performing extremely well,” she wrote. “Money talks in Hollywood but we still have to get beyond the implicit (unconscious) bias that factors into which projects get greenlit based on outmoded ways of thinking.”

Scarlett Johansson as The Major (Major Kusanagi) in Ghost in the Shell. (Paramount)
Scarlett Johansson as The Major (Major Kusanagi) in Ghost in the Shell. (Paramount)

Kunjue Li, Ripper Street actress and founder of China Dolls Productions Ltd., also addressed how money rules Hollywood, despite Hollywood not making the audience demand actually work for them financially. “I don’t think [whitewashing] is the right thing to do, and second of all, I don’t think it’s very commercial,” she said. “…[I]f they want to sell to Chinese audiences, which is the second biggest film market, then they need to tell a Chinese story…I think you have to tell a Chinese story [with] a Chinese cast.”

“If the film [was] an an American-Chinese co-production, [it would] actually help with the film itself because then it doesn’t have to go through the quota system…which means that only 30 percent of foreign films are allowed to show in China markets every year. If they do it as a co-production, then they get 1/3 of Chinese funding, but they have to have 1/3 of a Chinese [cast]. They’ll have one-third of Chinese funding, they’ll have domestic showings, they don’t have to go through the quota system, it’s much more feasible. Commercially, [whitewashing] doesn’t even work. I don’t understand why people keep doing that.”

Next: The pain of exoticism

Recapping #WhitewashedOUT and the excitement for “Crazy, Rich Asians”

Edited to reflect the full team behind #whitewashedOUT

JUST ADD COLOR has been doing some major coverage about the whitewashing of Ghost in the Shell and Doctor Strange, and if you read my virtual roundtable with The Nerds of Color’s Keith Chow and Afronerd and Renegade Nerd’s Claire Lanay, you might have seen some mention of Chow’s hashtag project, #whitewashedOUT. The hashtag went live Tuesday, and it sparked such a wave of responses, it tracked to number two in the Twitter trends.

Since it’s been a few days (and since I’ve been busy with my own Ghost in the Shell article for The Nerds of Color), let’s recap what happened this week.

The power of #whitewashedOUT

The hashtag #whitewashedOUT was a combined effort of Chow, Sarah Park Dahlen, Assistant Professor of Library & Information Science at St. Catherine University, writer Ellen Oh (@elloellenoh), writer Amitha Knight, writer Sona Charaipotra, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s Terry Hong , “Bookrageous” podcaster and writer Preeti Chhibber (@runwithskizzers), surgeon and writer Ilene Wong Gregorio, writer Thien-Kim Lam, and Written in the Stars author Aisha Saeed. (It’s also worth noting that many listed here are also a part of the We Need Diverse Books Campaign, with Oh as the CEO and President.) Comedian and actress Margaret Cho also contributed to the hashtag with her commentary and support.

Everyone came out in droves to support it and to offer their own experiences with racism, lack of representation, and struggles for self-acceptance.

Stars like Kerry Washington, Jackée Harry, Hari Kondabolu, Constance Wu, BD Wong, director Lexi Alexander and others helped bolster the hashtag, too, making the movement even more powerful. (Make sure to check the hashtag for yourself to see what everyone else had to say.)

Around the same time as #whitewashedOUT, a Facebook post Star Trek‘s George Takei made about Doctor Strange went viral. Here’s what Takei wrote on his Facebook page:

So let me get this straight. You cast a white actress so you wouldn’t hurt sales…in Asia? This backpedaling is nearly as cringeworthy as the casting. Marvel must think we’re all idiots.

Marvel already addressed the Tibetan question by setting the action and The Ancient One in Kathmandu, Nepal in the film. 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.

To those who say, “She [is] an actress, this is fiction,” remember that Hollywood has been casting white actors in Asian roles for decades now, and we can’t keep pretending there isn’t something deeper at work here. If it were true that actors of Asian descent were being offered choice roles in films, these arguments might prevail. But there has been a long standing practice of taking roles that were originally Asian and rewriting them for white actors to play, leaving Asians invisible on the screen and underemployed as actors. This is a very real problem, not an abstract one. It is not about political correctness, it is about correcting systemic exclusion. Do you see the difference?

Wong also had stuff to say on the erroneous casting of late. In his speech during May 2nd’s Beyond Orientalism: A Forum, Wong discussed about the instances he’s faced racist casting and yellowface in his acting career. “The tradition of white actors transforming themselves, playing whoever they want, crossing race, painting themselves up, and doing all sorts of things like that is as deeply entrenched in them as our pain is in us,” he said (as recounted by Fusion). “…You [white actors] can’t win when you have the yellowface on. You can’t win when you take the yellowface off. You’re in the wrong part.”

Online coverage of #whitewashedOUT

Several outlets covered the impact of #whitewashedOUT, including NBC Asian America, Buzzfeed, CNN Money, Colorlines, Salon, Bustle, Blavity, and others. Chow told Buzzfeed in a phone interview that the hashtag is about everything whitewashing represents, not just the optics of seeing Asian faces in film. “The whole idea of being whitewashed goes beyond just Asian characters being played by white people,” he said. “It’s the idea of centering whiteness in every story. Whiteness to them is ‘colorblind.’ Everyone can project themselves onto a white guy. Being an Asian-American person, I’ve spent my entire life identifying with non-Asian people, because you have to. And I want [to] tell white moviegoers it’s not that hard to see a person [who isn’t of] your ethnicity and identify with that person. We’ve been doing it for years.”

Marvel’s response to #whitewashedOUT

Marvel brass has certainly heard about #whitewashedOUT and have responded. To the level of satisfaction one might feel about the responses depends on you, the individual.

Scott Derrickson, the director of Doctor Strange, wrote on Twitter, “Raw anger/hurt from Asian-Americans over Hollywood whitewashing, stereotyping, & erasure of Asians in cinema. I am listening and learning.” The test is if Derrickson (and other directors who are also watching the #whitewashedOUT movement) will put what was learned into practice. (Some of the responses Derrickson received from his Twitter response were from a person who wrote that he had been blocked by Derrickson last year for bringing up the whitewashing in the film. “Now all of a sudden, he’s ‘listening,’ he wrote.)

Kevin Feige was asked about the controversy by Deadline, to which he responded with several interesting statements:

On the erroneous statement of Swinton being cast due to Chinese-Tibetan tensions (as originally alluded by Doctor Strange co-screenwriter C. Robert Cargill): We make all of our decisions on all of our films, and certainly on Doctor Strange, for creative reasons and not political reasons. That’s just always been te case. I’ve always believed that it is the films themeselves that will cross all borders and really get people to identify with these heroeos, and that always comes down to creative and not political reasons.

On the casting of Swinton as a creative choice: The casting of The Ancient One was a major topic of conversation in the development and the creative process of the story. We didn’t want to play into any of the stereotypes found in the comic books, some of which go back as far as 50 years or more. We felt the idea of gender swapping the role of The Ancient One was exciting. It opened up possibilities, it was a fresh way into this old and very typical storyline. Why not make the wisest bestower of knowledge in the universe to our heroes in the particular film a woman instead of a man?

On the whitewashing controversy: The truth is, the conversation that’s taking place around this is super-important. It’s something we are incredibly mindful of. We cast Tilda out of a desire to subvert stereotypes, not feed into them. I don’t know if you saw [Doctor Strange director] Scott Derrickson’s tweet the other day. He said we’re listening and we’re learning, every day. That really is true…I’m hopeful that some of our upcoming announcements are going to show that we’ve been listening.

On Captain Marvel being directed by a woman: [W]e are meeting with many, many immensely talented directors, the majority of whom are female. I do hope they will have announcements certainly by the summer, before the summer’s end, on a director for that.

Feige gives answers that are typical of an exec who has to respond to a controversy, but having said that, I personally think he means well. But “meaning well” is different than actually putting your money where your mouth is, and Feige himself addressed that sentiment in his interview (which is why he said he’s hopeful that upcoming films will help assuage fears of further diversity issues). However, three points of contention here,  one of them not even having to do with Feige:

  1. Why did Deadline writer Mike Fleming, Jr. call the controversy a “pseudo-controversy”? What makes this a fake controversy or half of a controversy? There’s nothing “pseudo” about it.
  2. If Feige wanted to subvert The Ancient One by casting a woman, why not have an Asian woman do it? (This point is actually discussed in my roundtable article). Or, if a woman is all that’s needed, why cast a white woman only? Were other actresses considered? Were certain casting agents even aware of the role to pass it along to their WOC clients? What was the audition process like? What did the casting call entail? There are a lot of questions here, because if The Ancient One is a learned woman, then anyone could play that role. The word “woman” doesn’t equal “white woman.”
  3. To that end, Doctor Strange didn’t have to be played by Benedict Cumberbatch either, because the assumption is still that a white man has to lead a Marvel movie. Twitter user Gelek Bhotay brings this up in his Twitter thread. If we’re really breaking away from the racist past of the Doctor Strange comics, take it completely out of the white male gaze and put it in the gaze of a POC woman and a POC man. It would also help if Marvel considered representing more of its viewership, such as LGBT viewers, disabled viewers, etc. Of course, you can’t address all of these in just one film, but that’s the beauty of a huge Marvel universe; you can address everyone when it comes to future film decisions. There’s still a lot of “listening and learning” Marvel has to do.

The big Hollywood news: Jon Chu to direct Crazy, Rich Asians

In this midst of #whitewashedOUT coverage, news was released that Jon Chu is set to direct the film adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel Crazy, Rich Asians. The book, according to Entertainment Weekly, “tells the story of an American-born Chinese woman who travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s super-wealthy family once there, she encounters jaw-dropping opulence and snobbery.” The book has two sequel books, China’s Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems (the latter of which will be out in 2017).

Chu tweeted about the news, also adding, “With amazing Asian actors cast in EVERY SINGLE ROLE. #itstime.”

It is time. It’s past time. So let’s hope that Crazy, Rich Asians doesn’t act as this generation’s Joy Luck Club (i.e. be an incredible film only to become an anomaly in Hollywood’s filmography featuring Asian-Americans in major roles). Let’s hope that Crazy, Rich Asians is just the first of an overflow of films starring Asian-Americans as leading men and leading ladies.