Or as many have dubbed it, Into Whiteness.
Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I’m a big fan of the Cumberbatch, and I thoroughly enjoyed his performance as the villain in the latest Star Trek movie so long as I could forget his character’s name: Khan Noonien Singh, which is a name thoroughly imbued with a racial and ethnic history far removed from that of one of the Whitest men in show-business, i.e. Benedict Cumberbatch.
Seriously? I grok how they wanted to bring in an actor that geeks already like to play the part, but what exactly would have been the problem with casting somebody like Sendhil Ramamurthy from Heroes? That the show ended in 2010 wouldn’t be a problem – geeks are famous for their attachment to long-gone canonical fandoms.
Or even a bit of a nod to the movie whose casting led to the coining of the term racebending in the first place, and cast Dev Patel (whose Last Airbender character Prince Zuko was White in the original cartoon version)?
And what about the amazing Sir Ben Kingsley (ne Krishna Pandit Bhanji)? Sure he’s getting on in years (but that never stopped Christopher Lee (LOTR, Star Wars)), and he’s been really busy in other geek movies lately(Iron Man 3, the upcoming Ender’s Game) but did they even approach him? If not, why not?
The above three actors are just off the top of my head. There’d be plenty more contenders with faces who would suit the name Khan Noonien Singh. They could always have used Cumberbatch as a different villain in this movie or the next.
As racebending.com points out,
In the original Trek, Khan, with his brown skin, was an Übermensch, intellectually and physically perfect, possessed of such charisma and drive that despite his efforts to gain control of the Enterprise, Captain Kirk (and many of the other officers) felt admiration for him.
And that’s why the role has been taken away from actors of colour and given to a white man.
Categories: arts & entertainment, ethics & philosophy, social justice
Wow. This sort of stuff just makes me shake my head in exasperation. It’s like a double fail – they won’t cast a character of colour to play a character of colour, but they can’t very well make the evil guy white, because that would just be wrong!
It’s not so much that they haven’t made the villain White (after all, what else could Cumberbatch possibly be?) but that they’ve erased the significance of the name entirely, in a movieverse where the diverse ethnic surnames of officers on the bridge of the Enterprise are meant to mean a great deal.
Times like this I feel like apologising for white people in general. Then someone (white) will start going on about what’s the big fuss about Cumberbund being cast yadda yadda and I just want to hide and pretend I’m not part of the human race for a bit. Maybe I could just get ‘I’m Sorry’ tattooed on my head.
>> a digression about tattoos taken to the Otterday thread.
This is particularly depressing given it’s right on the heels of Iron Man 3.
The reaction to John Cho’s response to the interviewer question “Who is your favorite villain?” is interesting:
It’s worth noting that John Cho has been MIA from the publicity tour for this movie after that press round-up day with Alice Eve. He wasn’t on the European press tour, and here in the US, while Pine, Quinto & Cumberbatch (and to a lesser extent Zoe Saldana) are on every imaginable press outlet, he’s doing one LA-based late night chat show and that’s it. It’s almost like he’s being punished for that little show of opinion.
I loved Star Trek, but I don’t plan to see this one.
I saw the previous movie — the one with the young Kirk portrayed as an a****** — and hated it. It was like they took everything that made Star Trek worth watching and turned it into fart jokes, and I haven’t see anything to suggest that they’re doing anything different with this one.
The old Star Treks were hokie as h***, but at least they treated a better future — one without racism, sexism, exploitation, war, etc. — as something worth hoping for.
As has also been pointed out, Dr Carol Marcus is treated completely differently in this film compared with The Wrath of Khan, where it’s like a total surprise to Kirk that she has boobs, and wears a bra under her StarFleet uniform! This film may be set in the 23rd century, but apparently JJ Abrams wanted Kirk to lack the sensibility of a partially civilised Cro-Magnon man. Right.
I read an article somewhere else about this recently – a fairly old one – that must have been running off a rumour that Cumberbatch was playing Khan, because I came away thinking ‘wow, I’m glad they aren’t going to do that because that would be really awful’. 😦
And it’s a shame, because I really liked the first movie. I went to see it thoroughly prepared to hate it, because I love TOS, but it totally won me over.
I think we’ve watched different old Star Trek’s. Whilst the racial mix was definitely groundbreaking, in terms of sexism it’s very much a display of the period it was created in. And it was not nearly the paradise that say ST:TNG was set in.
That was at least partially kind of his role in the original TV series. Changed significantly during the movies.
As for the race-bending, my feeling is that in the current climate that having yet another big baddie commiting terrorist acts, presented as someone who would probably be mis-interpreted as someone who looks like an Islamic terrorist would have also done considerable damage.
I kind of liked all the tributes they made to Star Trek II, but perhaps they would have been better off developing an entirely different storyline. They have a lot of leeway since resetting the timeline in the first movie.
I agree with everything you’ve said. Love BC as an actor (and in this role), but there are so many great actors of colour that could also have been just as good.
(More spoilers ahoy)
Why did it have to be Khan, anyway? What if he really was ‘John Harrison’, another member of the Botany Bay? How coincidental that they happened to wake up Khan?
And then in the final shot, you show John Harrison on ice, right next to another tube with an Indian guy (who, from the ominous music and the slow-panning close up, we know to be Khan)?
Two movies out of one broad plot. Hollywood, I’m free. Call me.
At the very least Cumberbatch is sufficiently awesome to deserve his own special new villain…
I think we watched the same Star Treks (mid 1960’s).
I don’t disagree that it was limited by what TV of the time would accept. (Note that Roddenbery originally chose a woman as First Officer, but that was nixed, supposedly due to audience resistance. He did manage to get a woman as communications officer, though.)
But I don’t think that contradicts my point that its vision was progressive. It assumed a peaceful federation and the subtext was (mostly) that cooperation and tolerance and persuasion and respect were the way to go, not blowing the other guy (and lots of other stuff) up. This was a revolutionary concept in the mid 1960’s, and, to judge by “science fiction” movies of today, it still is.
I don’t see much difference between the most recent Star Trek movie (whose name I can’t remember) and Iron Man 3 — both were mainly about building up to a climax of killing and destruction. I don’t need to go to a movie to see that — I can just turn on the news.
I wouldn’t call a glorified telephone operator a progressive part for women, but again, it’s the times they were created in. The belief that we’re so much better now is often misplaced. It’s stupid to attack people of the past.
I did love the film with a big exception bubble for Cumberbatch as Khan. Because … yeah. The one time anyone says his name in full it’s kind of mumbled. And Cumberbatch is many splendid things, but he’s no Ricardo Montalban.
And I’m with Chris @10. We’ve got a new TV channel in NZ which is basically “super old shows you have vague nostalgia for” and they’re rerunning original Trek / TNG / DS9 on Saturday nights. Original-Trek Kirk, i.e. about the same age as new!Kirk? Bit of a prat, especially with the ladies. Original!Movie!Kirk was a lot less so, but also older and a lot more avuncular. Hell, they were all a lot more avuncular, except for Uhura breaking out the fan dance in the otherwise-abominable Final Frontier.
(Early TNG does not bear typing about.)
“(Early TNG does not bear typing about.)”
Some friends of mine are devoted Trekkers and introduced me to TNG. We watched the early shows and fell around laughing because they were so stiff and stagey.
My friends’ belief is that it’s not a real Trek unless Riker has a beard. 🙂
I must say it was worth seeing the bit where Data inadvertently disses France and Picard launches into a cross between a history lecture and reading the Riot Act, leaving Data completely nonplussed.
I think thats pretty much true for TNG, DS9 and VOY. It takes the actors a season or two to get into their rhythm. They’re rather lucky that Trekkies are sufficicently desperate/loyal to get them sufficient ratings to survive a dodgy couple of years.
And for those who haven’t seen this yet.
One rather relevant quote:
I hadn’t realised that the Khan storyline was so controversial even before the film was released with the makers trying to deny that it was about Khan at all as I’d somehow managed to avoid any rumours/discussion of the movie (except for trailers) until after I saw it.
I tried reading that page, but had to stop halfway because my head was about to explode.
Just read that FAQ and nearly died laughing. And I don’t know the original Khan story at all – I saw Wrath of Khan mumblemumble years ago – but oy, what a pestilential mess they’ve made of this film.