I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness last night. And I really enjoyed it. It’s not quite Trek, but the flavor is there, and as a fan of everything scifi-fantasy, I was thoroughly entertained. I was probably more entertained that someone who isn’t already a Trek fan, because I got to laugh at all the ‘in’ jokes, but that is neither here nor there.
What we’re really here to talk about is Benedict Cumberbatch and his casting as the iconic Trek villain, Khan.
Now, Mr. Cumberbatch delivered a stellar performance. He was dynamic. He was despicable and sympathetic in turns. He was a true force to be reckoned with, and I think he carried the mantle of such a celebrated character well. But the problem is, the original Khan was a person of color, and Benedict Cumberbatch is very, very white.
Now his whiteness is not his fault, and he did do a wonderful job. Ask yourself – and be honest now – “If I were a white person, and I was offered an iconic role in an iconic franchise, and the character had originally been a POC, would I turn the role down?”
Of course you wouldn’t. If you do, you are either actually a saint, crazy, don’t really love acting, richer than Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne combined, or some combination thereof.
Now, that being said, I started thinking to myself: Is this really white washing? Or an example of blind casting? The idea behind blind casting is that you choose the best actor for the role without regard to appearance – based on acting ability alone. Naturally that has to include the possibility of white people being cast in POC roles. So I went and did some research, and rather than repeat it all to you, here are some links to the things I found most helpful:
Now, having read those (and I’m going to assume you’ve just read them too), I have to come to the conclusion that no, this is not blind casting.
Firstly, blind casting is not what I thought it was. It does not include the possibility of casting white actors in POC roles where “race is not germaine,” because the majority of roles are for white people anyway. And even if blind casting was what I thought it was, and it included the possibility of casting a white actor in a POC role, Into Darkness still can’t really claim it as a defense. Why? Because they have held true to the original race of every other character. If Benedict Khanberbatch was really blind casting, then it follows that Kirk could be a black man, Sulu could be white, Uhura could be Chinese, and so on.
So this is white washing, and that sucks.
And you know, as a white person, it’s hard for me to grasp how much that sucks. So to put it in perspective for myself, I imagined that Uhura had been genderbent into a man. A strong woman with agency and rank and an
identity outside of romance cast as a man because he was just the best actor for the job? My response: Oh hell no.
So if you are one of those who, like me until I sat down to educate myself, doesn’t quite get why this is a problem, try to frame it in a way that becomes personal to you. Are you gay? Gay character rebooted as straight. Atheist? Atheist character rebooted as religious. So on and so forth.
And remember, it has nothing to do with disliking Benedict Cumberbatch. You can think he’s a fabulous actor, be a fan, even think he did a fabulous job portraying Khan, but still recognize that the casting of a white actor in a POC role is problematic. And it matters.