George Takei took to Facebook to air his concerns on the ongoing discussion regarding Tilda Swinton’s – a white woman – casting as The Ancient One in Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange, a character traditionally a Tibetan monk in the comics. His criticism extended to Marvel’s backpedaling response, wherein the company argued the Chinese market prevented them from recognizing Tibet, as China itself does not.
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.
Since the film’s version of the Ancient One is located in Nepal instead of Tibet, Takei said
“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.”
Takei also engaged with his Facebook fans in the comments, addressing concerns like those of the film’s writer C. Robert Cargill who, speaking on the YouTube show Double Toasted, said that casting the Ancient One was a lose-lose situation no matter whom they chose.
Addressing those who dismissed his post, he responded.
“To those who say, “She 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?”
In regard to the assertion, like Cargill said, that the Ancient One was a “racist stereotype” and the lose-lose situation the studio faced when adapting the character for Doctor Strange, Takei answered.
“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. And incidentally, there are many ways to write non-stereotypical roles these days, even out of existing portrayals. Casting an Asian actor in an Asian role that was once stereotypical but is now nuanced and developed–now that would be a welcome development.”
And when one commenter mentioned how the casting of Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury worked out, accusing Takei of hypocrisy, he had this to say.
I fear you miss my point. I’m not against colorblind casting. That is to say, when there is a role that can be played by a black actor or an Asian one (such as Hermione in the play in London), then I welcome it. But here we are talking about the systematic erasure of Asian faces from film and media. It is so prevalent that even when there IS an Asian role that could be played by an Asian actor, it is given instead to a white actor. Do you not see the issue here? We are talking about systemic exclusion, lack of opportunity, and invisibility of a whole segment of our society, because Hollywood is afraid to take chances with ethnic actors. Instead, we are the butt of jokes (as the Oscars telecast showed) or are cast only in certain roles that continue to marginalize us and send signals to society that we are not leading men and women. I have a real problem with that, and I’m the happy exception to all of this. But I feel for my fellow Asian American actors who cannot find work because what little work there is gets “whitewashed” for others to play.
The issue of representation in Hollywood is very meaningful because Hollywood is the biggest entertainment producer on the planet. Everyone worldwide sees these movies. While some see putting diverse characters in blockbusters or superhero films as little more than “tokenism,” Takei sees a distinct lack of Asian roles and even the erasure of the few that exist. He argues, basically, that all art is political. There is always a reason not to do something. But Takei wants studios’ to take chances on Asian actors, because how else will they become recognized as potential “leading men and women?”
Your thoughts on Takei’s thoughts? Your thoughts on Takei’s thoughts on others’ thoughts? Romantic advice? All is welcome in the comments (Except hate. Let’s keep it respectful).