By Vivian Obarski
I don’t know how to start this nicely, because I’m fed up. Not my usual fed up that I can break down into a nice simple logical and reasoned argument as to why I’m irritated. No, this is something entirely different — a visceral, emotional reaction that’s me being upset for no good reason. Most rational people would tell me to ignore this and wander off and do something else like knit another hat.
But this isn’t rational, this is fandom.
So I’ll just say it: I’m mad at the whole Star Trek Into Darkness marketing machine and how they’ve cloaked the villain’s true identity in secret. So much so that they’re willing to admit the possibility of whitewashing a major villain. And dammit, that’s something I want to know, because I don’t want to support that — there’s been enough whitewashing in movies as of late to make me feel a bit queasy about the news surrounding this one. Don’t pull a bait and switch on me with something like this. At least Avatar: the Last Airbender was honest and sprayed its whitewashing all over the damn news.
(SPOILER ALERT YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED).The whole news of Cumberbatch being cast as Khan is really disappointing to me. Asian people can’t get a role in Hollywood. The Asian actors I can easily think of are Lucy Liu, John Cho, Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kailing, Steven Yeun and Kal Penn.
I mean, I’ve watched a lot of stuff that is problematic on different levels — Argo had whitewashing, Tarantino films, any action movie where the white dude blows shit up — but this hurts more for some reason. Maybe it’s taking a major villain that was East Indian and turning him into something else? Normally us Asians, if we’re on screen (and not Cho, Liu, Ansari, Kailing, Yeun and Penn), we’re the extras in the background, the foreign faces that make up an organized crime group or a bunch of engineers. We had the spotlight for once man and they took it away.
Don’t get me wrong. I also like Cumberbatch as an actor. But (to quote a friend), if you look up the definition of WASPY Mo-fo, his picture is right by it. And the dude’s gotten lots of recognition for his work (Sherlock, War Horse, Parade’s End to name a few) — why not give someone else a chance at the spotlight?
What also makes me annoyed is how the press has kowtowed to JJ Abrams wishes and is now engaging in what looks to me like active trolling of its fans. They don’t say exactly what’s going on, but then they also nudge at it enough that people are whipping themselves into a frenzy trying to speculate on what’s going on.
Frankly, it’s exhausting to read. I’m exhausted reading the speculation, the coy reviews and the Internet rage about the clues given. This is like sitting in a room with everyone who gets a joke, but won’t let you in on it. You know what kind of people those folks are? Assholes.
I wish I could say I didn’t care. Most of me doesn’t. If your entire movie is going to be ruined by the release of the identity of the villain, how good is your movie?
Hell, I was spoiled with The Sixth Sense and the movie still worked beautifully — even more so because it felt more tragic knowing what the main character didn’t know. There’s been articles about how getting spoiled doesn’t wreck the experience for most people.
Not to mention, this whole silly dance makes it hard to discuss the film in print, as Calumn Marsh of Film.Com wrote
But being thoroughly averse to spoilers on principle does present problems for long-form film criticism, which by its very nature demands full disclosure and the ability to engage seriously with every aspect of a film, including major plot points and, indeed, even the ending. Film criticism is supposed to help illuminate a film, not simply offer a yay/nay declaration of its quality, and in order to do so well it needs to assume that its readers will be familiar with the material in question in full.
I don’t know about you, but I love reading film criticism because it illuminates what I’ve seen. I may not have always agreed with Roger Ebert, but his writing raised interesting issues and questions about the films I loved and made me see them in a new way. It was like having a great movie discussion with a good friend who loved the same thing you did, but also had a different take on it.
Star Trek’s marketing is really bothersome because JJ. Abrams is successfully taking away our ability to react or discuss things because it’s shrouded in tenuous hope or fear thanks to the speculation. And after months of this, it’s not exciting. It’s made me weary. I was excited (given that I really enjoyed the first movie and I think Benedict Cumberbatch is an excellent actor), but now I don’t care anymore. I’d rather watch RED 2 and see the old gang of assassins having fun right now. I’d rather watch Now You See Me to see a group of magicians pull of heists targeting the world’s largest banks. I’d rather watch This is The End — where the spoiler is the title. Hell, I might as well watch The Great Gatsby just to see how they mixed hip hop in with the Roaring 20s. I might know what the plot is and be spoiled on all those movies I listed, but you know what? It seems more fun than the paranoia that’s running rampant over on the Star Trek end of things.
[SPOILERS, y’all – same as the OP but yeah]
I am 100% with you, Viv. Not only is the whole secret-villain thing pretty thinly excused, and the whitewashing is horrible and inexcusable, but on top of it, all us Trekkers have been wondering if it’s Khan for months. It’s not this huge surprise, it’s the MOST obvious choice.
But back to the whitewashing: what a convenient and offensive way to hide it from the fans for months. I’d like to think that there are lots of us Trekkers, people of color and otherwise, who expect more (or at least, you know, expect not to see blatant erasure of the Trek universe’s own history!) – but the way this went down, the apologists are getting to run the conversation. Moreso than usual, because the film is also getting good reviews, and no one seems to think that casting WASPy McBritish is a problem because he’s great.
In short, I’ll have a tall glass of booze to wash down a double-dose of Fuckitol.
I’m now of the belief that they used that whole secrecy thing as a way to prevent any discussion or action regarding the whitewashing from occurring (like what happened with the Avatar the Last Airbender movie). The blog Racebending broke it down much better than I can right now, but I think the secrecy thing is pretty weak, given that it was pretty much revealed during the world previews last week.
It’s also disappointing given that JJ was lauded for his TV work with Lost and such, that this occurred. My thought is that he was just seeing the casting as an attempt to throw people off the scent (Cumberbatch if I recall correctly is a last-minute replacement after talks with Benicio Del Toro fell through. Del Toro might not be South Asian, but he’s not WASPy Mofo).
What I want, and I know I’m not going to get is an answer as to how this happened — I want to hear from JJ why they made the casting choice they did and whether or not Cumberbatch knew this (all interviews I’ve seen so far indicate he knew nothing until he signed the contract and I know people can say he still could’ve backed out, but that’s not really feasible given contract clauses and other repercussions).
The only glee I’m getting right now is that John Cho’s been throwing shade left and right for me. I’m hoping someday, when the NDA’s run out, he can talk frankly also about what happened.