A brief disclaimer before I begin — I am by no means a “Trekkie.” And honestly, I don’t know the first thing about Star Trek or what’s to come in its latest Hollywood installment, Star Trek Intro Darkness. So forgive me as I try to make commentary on a franchise I am not particularly familiar with. But a conversation I had with a friend the other day brought up something important about the movie — more importantly, the nature of its casting choices. As a BBC Sherlock fan, I was aware that the show’s lead actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, was going to play a vital role in the movie. What I didn’t know was that Cumberbatch was set to play the villain, Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered superhuman—from India.
Cumberbatch is a white, British man, and that was the source of my friend’s anger. She is also of Indian descent and was upset to find that a chance for someone of her culture to be admired on the silver screen was squashed. Director J.J. Abrams certainly dropped the ball on this one. T here really isn’t a shortage of Indian actors who could have just as easily (and accurately) filled the role.
Seriously, have you not seen the Bollywood scene?
It's pretty epic.
Of course, there’s no doubt that Cumberbatch is a talented actor and I would have no qualms with him being in the movie, if only his particular role weren't’t weighed down with the phenomenon of whitewashing. It’s something that Hollywood is notoriously famous for.
The Last Airbender? Whitewashed.
Akira 2013? TBW (To Be Whitewashed).
That terrible Dragon Ball live-action movie, Dragonball Evolution? Why was Goku played by Justin Chatwin?
Even Hollywood sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss for The Hunger Games isn’t quite the right fit.
Hollywood’s whitewashing is a systematic form of racism that fills out roles meant for people of color with white actors, which suggests that Hollywood might be inclined to believe that it’s only white actors all moviegoers want to see on screen. A majority of the time, minority characters are seen in Hollywood films when they serve the purpose of playing a secondary role or fitting some wacky stereotype, from the comedic to the bad guys. There’s Leslie Chow in The Hangover to foreign villains such as the Big Bad Russian trope that’s way past its expiration date.
But in order to see any legitimate change, not only do directors and the funders of movies behind scenes need to take an active role, but the actors and actresses of the trade ought to start speaking out rather than just taking their paychecks and making a run for it. Read more and get involved in efforts to raise awareness on Hollywood whitewashing with the grassroots organization, Racebending.com.
Because this is all pretty darn offensive and needs to stop.