The Sunday Salon: Star Trek Into Darkness and Whitewashing (SPOILERS)

I went to see Star Trek Into Darkness on Friday. I was so brutally disappointed that I had to put my face on the Internet about it. Thus, another video rant. I also direct you to Racebending’s comments on the subject. This io9 post is also a good read.

This week was a lot of cleaning, recycling, and donating, but my room (as seen in the video above!) is finally the way I want it. I’ve been making progress on Dragonflight and hope to tackle The Black Count soon. I also tried to make s’more cupcakes yesterday and failed, continuing my losing streak with putting marshmallows in ovens. But the exploded cupcakes were still delicious.

This week’s links:

If you saw Star Trek Into Darkness, what did you make of this?

11 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Star Trek Into Darkness and Whitewashing (SPOILERS)

  1. I have absolutely zero problem with the casting choice. I guess I am free of the “white guilt” baggage that some many seem afflicted with. Read enough history and one comes to the conclusion that just about every group is equally evil and equally virtuous. As the product of poor German immigrants who came to the United States in the mid nineteenth century and fought in the civil war for the North should I feel more or less guilty for my ethnic group’s crimes then say a person who is the product of southern slave owners? Or is it because that we are all white that we should all feel guilty?

    • I can’t speak to your experience with “white guilt” in the context of your specific heritage, nor anybody else’s. I can only speak to the facts pertaining to this specific situation: Khan is an Indian character. Abrams cast a white Briton in the role. This is an action that not only erases people of color from both sci-fi and the big screen, but also betrays the beating heart of the franchise. If you don’t agree, I don’t think we have much to talk about. Thanks for swinging by.

  2. So you are saying in this specific case the film would have been improved had the character been played by a “person of color” (an unspecific and insulting term if I ever heard one)? Would their performance have been better? Is this “person of color” a more accomplished actor? If I think back to the film Thor I seem to remember some controversy over the casting of Idris Elba as the Norse god Heimdall. Of course having a “person of color” playing a Norse god makes little sense historically but it worked because Idris Elba is a great actor. When one disregards race as a factor all types of interesting opportunities arise. Make a traditionally white character black and a traditionally black character white, it makes little difference to me as long as the performance is accomplished and the acting of high quality. Resistance to these types of changes, both ways, stems from the same place I believe.

    • “Person of color” is a term coined specifically to be inclusive by racial justice activists of the 1970s. There are arguments to made against it because of its emphasis on colorism and its conflation of race and ethnicity, but it is commonly used in progressive circles.

      I have no specific actor in mind, so I cannot comment on the quality of their specific work. However, there’s no way that there is not an ethnically Indian actor working today whose acting is of the same caliber as Cumberbatch’s. We simply haven’t seen this mysterious him in high profile works because there are not as many opportunities for them as for Cumberbatch. Several people have been throwing out names, including Naveen Andrews, whom Abrams worked with on Lost.

      When a big sci-fi blockbuster film has a role that specifically requires an ethnically Indian actor, it’s a fantastic opportunity for ethnically Indian actors to play a role that isn’t stereotypical. When you cast a white man in the role… it’s shades of The Last Airbender all over again. In fact, I think a lot of your questions would be best addressed by Racebending’s FAQ on Hollywood casting practices. It goes into more detail than I can.

      I agree that “when one disregards race as a factor all types of interesting opportunities arise”. Many theater productions take advantage of colorblind casting. But Hollywood—and especially Paramount, which produced The Last Airbender—do not use casting practices that can be considered colorblind in the slightest. I truly wished we lived in a world where casting could be colorblind. But this is a world where people were upset because black characters were played by black actors in The Hunger Games. The FAQ goes into how supposedly colorblind practices can be used poorly.

      But, in any case, we cannot disregard race when a character who is explicitly of one ethnicity is played by a character of another ethnicity—especially when you get into the political implications of having a British man play an Indian one, given Britain and India’s history.

      If Abrams and company wanted to have a superhuman character played specifically by Cumberbatch, all they had to do was not use Khan’s name and bring all of this up. That was all they had to do. And they did this instead.

  3. The point of trust is an important one to make. One of my best friends felt that keeping the initial name of Cumberbatch’s character, John Harrison, would have kept the everything intact. His issue was that a need to use old Star Trek elements held back a new story and what should have been a new character.

    That wouldn’t get around the issue of trust that the creators violated, which, like the movie or not, they did. The ubermensch was depicted as a white man. Luckily, the producers had the sense to ask Cumberbatch to dye his hair, though that was done so it wasn’t blond Kirk v. blond villain.

    Could I invoke that the villain role originally belonged to Benicio Del Toro? Sure. Did he end up playing the part? No, and it’s the final product that people will look at and question.

    I am led to the dilemma that I always deal with when I watch a movie that I have issue with: Do the problems with the movie outweigh what they do right?

    For me, both Abrams Star Trek movies capture a general slate of diversity, from the array of non-human characters throughout the ship, to the couple that Khan manipulates early in the film (a woman of Indian descent and a man of African descent who have a child together). Things like those aside, I shouldn’t have to hunt for diversity and a broad spectrum of life in a series that is supposed to cherish the value of cooperation between all peoples.

    I can’t punish Star Trek Into Darkness on all these fronts, even though it did fail in that respect. Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch will get a great deal of exposure from his performance. This movie gives exposure to actors like Noel Clarke (who I always enjoyed seeing in Doctor Who) as the young father at the beginning of the movie, and veteran voice actor Beau Billingslea in the short role as the captain of the USS Bradbury.

    Finally, I should point out that Khan’s defeat comes from the combined efforts of a large part of the Enterprise crew–a diverse group, working together, can take on a number of threats, no matter how “superior” those people or ships are supposed to be. I think that speaks more to the qualities of Star Trek than any casting of Khan.

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