George Takei Criticizes Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange’ Casting, Answers Fan Backlash

George Takei

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.

Posted by George Takei on Saturday, April 30, 2016

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).

(via Vulture)

Sam Flynn

Sam Flynn

Sam is a writer and journalist whose passion for pop culture burns with the fire of a thousand suns and at least three LED lamps.

  • capwulf

    George is spot on. You could change the word Asian to Black or Native American, and it would resonate as strongly. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • chaburchak

    If they had cast an Asian like James Hong as the Ancient One, Takei would have complained about the stereotype of the “mystical old wise man from the Far East”. Cargill’s right in that respect, it is a lose-lose situation…whichever way you turn, someone’s gonna complain.

    The only way to avoid it would’ve been to cast Tilda Swinton AND James Hong AND any other actor or actress who might give that otherworldly vibe. Who says the Ancient One has just one face? That might’ve headed off all this handwringing plus made it much easier when negotiating sequals…if some wants too big a raise, just change the actor again…

    • Paul Newman

      Assuming what Takei would think or say in that scenario is almost as disappointing as Cargill and Marvel’s “there’s no way we could have won this” response.

      Casting Tilda Swinton doesn’t solve the white man goes to the East for enlightenment trope. It just makes this white man goes to the East to learn from white person who has already appropriated the iconography of Eastern mysticism.

      “The only way to avoid it would’ve been to cast Tilda Swinton AND James Hong AND any other actor or actress who might give that otherworldly vibe.”

      That’s not the only way. They could have, as Takei said, written a non-stereotypical version of an existing character. That’s what we should expect “creatives”. This has been touted as Feige’s pet project for years. Giving up and calling this aspect of it the “Kobayashi Maru” is disappointing. They could have cast Dr. Strange as someone other than another white man. There are an infinite number of things they could have done differently, because storytelling is limitless.

      They could have given a Tibetan an opportunity in a megablockbuster — but the reality is that Marvel/Disney let their fear of the Chinese film board make a decision for them.

      • Samuel Patrick Flynn

        agreed

        • LupeX

          Actually she doesn’t have a massive built-in following. Shes not a blockbuster box office draw. Just take a look at her past blockbuster projects in which she had a substantial role … with her records she’s actually box office poison.

          • Samuel Patrick Flynn

            I believe he was referring to Benedict Cumberbatch as Strange, not Swinton as the Ancient One.

          • capwulf

            Lupe was referring to Scarjo not Cumberbatch.

      • AlphaBlu

        “They could have cast Dr. Strange as someone other than another white man.”

        No, what Marvel did is cast an international super-star with a massive built-in following and someone who could take over as a series lead once some of the older hands have shuffled off this Marvel coil (like RDJ, Thor, and maybe even Cap). That’s smart casting.

        It’s the same reason they cast ScarJo in GITS: It draws an audience, therefore increasing the return on investment.

        • Axxell

          I understand that part, though I wish they would’ve cast a Middle Eastern man for the role…that would’ve been different.

      • chaburchak

        Paul, if you’ve heard enough of Takei’s rants over movies and politics, it’s not hard to assume what he would say or think. Twitter outrage is fairly predictable these days.

        As for, as Takei said, writing a non-stereotypical version of an existing character, how would you know it was non-stereotypical until you’ve seen it? And yet here he is, and here you are, lambasting the movie before either of you have seen it. Like I said, predictable.

        • Axxell

          Paul, if you’ve heard enough of Takei’s rants over movies and politics, it’s not hard to assume what he would say or think. Twitter outrage is fairly predictable these days.

          Too bad we don’t have a lot of asians being cast in lead roles to actually draw a pattern out of Takei’s opinion on those…

          As for, as Takei said, writing a non-stereotypical version of an existing character, how would you know it was non-stereotypical until you’ve seen it? And yet here he is, and here you are, lambasting the movie before either of you have seen it. Like I said, predictable.

          Not sure how predictable it is to know if Takei would’ve complained on this issue. But it’d be nice if we could argue the points on it’s merits. The casting is done, so there’s no need to watch the movie before commenting on the subject.

          As for writing a non-stereotypical version of the character, I think everyone knows what a stereotypical asian looks like; if one can’t imagine a respectfully done asian mystic, then one has bigger problems than lack of imagination.

      • capwulf

        I understand Disney’s Tibetan position, that is a political landmine and they are a publicly traded company. It would have cost them money in the second largest film-going market…I get it.
        But, they changed it to Nepal, at that point they were free to cast an Asian actor with no repercussion. They just chose not to…

  • DBZ *King Goku*

    I don’t like these PC responses just say Tilda Swinton is a better actress/actor and keep it moving

    • capwulf

      than who?
      that makes no sense…is she the better actress than everybody?

  • Avengers+MCUspidey

    Happy he got ripped on this post by so many users

    • DBZ *King Goku*

      Yeah I’m so over this it doesn’t make any sense People complained about Asian stereotypes in Daredevil season 2 yet turn around and cry about Iron Fist and the Ancient One not being Asian both of would be flaming sterotypes

      • To play Devil’s advocate, that’s because the Hand ninjas in Daredevil Season 2 weren’t actually characters – they were plot devices with vague motivations.

      • Axxell

        I literally never heard or saw anyone complain about Daredevil Season 2’s asian representation.

      • capwulf

        If you are white you have the luxury of being “over it”. Minorities don’t get that privilege.

  • AlphaBlu

    So he’s totes cool with white roles being casted in a ‘colorblind’ manner and having someone who isn’t white have those rules, but ever do it in reverse and it’s whitewashing.

    No. That’s not hypocritical at all. *rolleyes*

    I get what he’s saying about Hollywood not offering enough opportunities, but at the same time Hollywood isn’t in the business of making those opportunities. They’re in the business of getting as much return as possible for the least amount of risk. They are amoral. That’s cold, sure, but it’s the truth.

    • Marquis de Sade

      Yeah, but when has Tilda Swinton ever been a box office draw? There was no excuse not to hire an Asian to play The Ancient One. This is akin to the casting choices in FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, where they hired a Welsh, a Sicilian, and a Scandinavian to play Latinos and a Latina.

      • AlphaBlu

        You’re right there. I can’t think of a reason that made Tilda Swinton a better choice than anyone else. She is an excellent actress, but she’s not someone who draws in crowds.

        That said, I do think that people would be complaining about this no matter what. The stuff about China/Tibet might be true, it might be hasty backtracking, it might be both, but people were going to screaming “Why is the Ancient One an Asian stereotype!” or “Why can’t the Ancient One be an Asian woman!” and on and on and on.

        I mean, we live in a world where people were criticising Zoe Sladana because she wasn’t “black enough” to play Nina Simone, so really this racial/gender nonsense has to stop.

        Just let Marvel make their films how they want to make them. They haven’t let us down yet (Iron Man 3 notwithstanding).

        • Thanostic

          I think you mean “Iron Man 2 notwithstanding” but otherwise great points. :)

        • capwulf

          No one was screaming any of those things.

          And the Nina Simone thing requires an insight into black culture that an outsider wouldn’t have. You wouldn’t understand.

    • Eobard Thawne

      It’s NOT hypocritical, that’s what a lot of people are seemingly too thick to understand.

      > They’re in the business of getting as much return as possible for the least amount of risk. They are amoral.

      Literally no one is denying that, that’s being singled out as the problem that needs to be changed, and honestly won’t be drastically changed in instances like this if a role went to a guy like (hypothetically only) George Takei instead of Tilda Swinton.

    • Axxell

      I get what he’s saying about Hollywood not offering enough opportunities, but at the same time Hollywood isn’t in the business of making those opportunities. They’re in the business of getting as much return as possible for the least amount of risk. They are amoral. That’s cold, sure, but it’s the truth.

      Everyone understands that.

      Everyone also understands that the only way they can get a return on their investment is by getting the audience to buy into what they’re producing. So the audience has every right to complain if there’s something they don’t like about it.

      • capwulf

        Not to mention there is every evidence that diversity sells. Fast and Furious is the freaking rainbow coalition, and it kills at the box office. Not to mention Han Seoul-o being one the most popular characters.

  • IsmellSuperBUll

    Reshoots reshoots just take the Nepal clip outta the movie they only shot there for a few weeks..

  • IsmellSuperBUll

    Liberal critics and editorials will eat this movie alive the only option at this point is to reshoot the movie with something else and edit out the Nepal clip, I don’t know how much of the movie is there but they only shot there for a few weeks

    • Carl

      Nah, it’ll blow over soon. This is trivial nonsense.

  • Carl

    So casting a woman in a role that women rarely get, casting a black man to play a white character and casting an Asian man to play an Asian character isn’t enough diversity for you people? Get off you high horse and crawl back into the insignificant corner of the internet with the rest of the SJWs looking for their next target.

    By the way that next target will be Battle Angel. Not a single Asian woman is rumored to be in the running for another Anime based adaptation.

    • capwulf

      The fact that you tried to point out an Asian character being played by an Asian man as evidence of ‘diversity’ says more than I ever could.
      Thanks for being down with the cause!

  • JMMagwood

    Does anyone really care what Takei thinks?

    • Marquis de Sade

      Yeah, he’s about as non-relevant as bvs!

      • Eobard Thawne

        Just when you thought these threads couldn’t get anymore fanboy…

      • SonOfKrpton

        Irrelevant*.

        Just like your statement.

  • LupeX

    The popcorn is popped, the soda is chilled, now it’s time to watch fans claim that fellow fans that want inclusion are hypocritical, SJW and clueless.

  • I wish he would have address this more so on the Ghost in the Shell casting. The character he is referring to was badly done in the comics and that the term “Ancient One” refers to a moniker not a person. So anyone, of any race can be it. Yes, it would have been better to cast a Tibetan actor, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t even know if there are Tibetan actors. There are Asian actors sure, but then you run into other political issues. So they made the character Celtic in this incarnation. Look, is it bad? Sure, but it is NO where as bad as Scar Jo playing a Japanese character in Ghost in the Shell, I really wished that was the focus of the argument because it would make more sense to me.

  • Jax Maxton

    Takei’s comments show just how little he knows about politics in that part of the world. Marvel would be risking China banning the movie if the character is Tibetan, and would risk alienating pro-Tibetan viewers if you made him Chinese. It was a no-win situation in China with Marvel, so they did what they thought was best for their bottom line.

    • Axxell

      Really, I’m sympathetic to the cause of Tibet…but I don’t think anyone is so passionate about it that they demand a Tibetan must be cast, considering no one knows any native actors…

    • capwulf

      Takei understood the Tibetan implication, he literally stated it in his comment.

      “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…”

      This just shows that you’ve evidenced your lack of reading comprehension. The Tibet thing was not his issue at all.

  • Chris Aytes

    1.) A lot of talk about a film, character, and performance no one has seen.

    2.) With all due respect, I am absolutely certain Disney understands what will and will not get a film banned in China, a major film market, better than George Takei.

    • Axxell

      I don’t think anyone has questioned her performance in the film. This isn’t about that.

  • Ben Kabak

    Typical liberal. All about identity politics and skin color. Forget story.

  • E C F’N W

    I stopped listening to him ever since he criticized Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan. The man says Benedict was wrong for the role because he was white but then supported Ricardo Montalban (who hails from Mexico) to play an Indian character.

    I’m all for killing white-washing in Hollywood. But for once can we just look at the performance. I mean Baron Mordo has already been changed. And I love that one because Chiwetel Ejiofor is awesome. But seriously… lets just see her performance.

    Actual question here… if they kept the Ancient One as Asian, who would you cast in the role?

  • Math

    Funny how this situation went from Marvel being progressive by casting a woman in a male role to Marvel whitewashing by not casting an Asian actor.

  • Math

    If the ancient one is suppose to be from Tibet, would that mean your actor should not simply be Asian, but specifically from Tibet if you really want to be politically correct?