: Uh, I just realized this reply now contains almost none of your original text, Ovation
. Sorry about that, I was trying to trim it for length. I think (and hope) that I summarized the basic arguments I was responding to fairly. This is meant to be more of a general overview of some basic points of contention than a point-by-pointer.)
"Totally fictional" means what it says. No basis in reality.
On taking a break and giving it a re-read, I do see a little better what you're going for here and in the subsequent passages. Yes, I would probably say that for degree-of-offensiveness, you can make a case that whitewashing Khan is not quite up there with whitewashing Nehru. Stipulated.
I can't get all the way to its being irrelevant, though. Later on you say:
when ethnicity is irrelevant to the character, I consider it a non-issue
... and mention characters like Perry White. That's a false comparison: Perry White doesn't come with an inbuilt backstory like Khan does. And at the end of the day, you can't call ethnicity completely "irrelevant" to a character whose ethnicity we all know
. And that's the bottom line. If the character is specified as having a South Asian background
, you had better expect it to occur to people why one would avoid casting a South Asian in that situation. Whether he came out of a test tube or was born from a bolt of lightning does not make a great difference to the questions about the entertainment marketplace
and the treatment of actors and audiences
that these things bring up. So trying to say that having an in-universe rationale for the whitewashing makes it unimportant ultimately just doesn't work.
You are also right that Khan -- in particular NuKhan -- isn't built with ethnicity as the core of the character. So, does that make it okay? Actually it can just as easily make the racebending stick out even more.
It would be like casting a white woman as Uhura; technically Uhura's ethnicity is not really that important to the kind of woman she is, certainly not in NuTrek -- she's defined much more by her drive and ambition and brilliance and getting-it-on-with-Spock-ness -- but her ethnicity would still be in frame and whitewashing her would only bring up even weirder and more jarring questions of why an actress of colour was deemed unsuitable to portray those positive traits. Which indeed is exactly what came up for the Racebending.com blogger with Khan (emphases mine):
Marissa Sammy wrote:
But all of that will be marred by having my own skin edited out, rendered worthless and silent and invisible when a South Asian man is portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch up on that screen. In the original Trek, Khan, with his brown skin, was an ‹bermensch, intellectually and physically perfect, possessed of such charisma and drive that despite his efforts to gain control of the Enterprise, Captain Kirk (and many of the other officers) felt admiration for him.
And thatís why the role has been taken away from actors of colour and given to a white man . . . villains are generally played by people with darker skin Ö unless the villain is one with intelligence, depth, complexity.
Now, here's what I said about this in my original version of this post:
A much more irritable BigJake wrote:
These questions come up, of course, because not too long ago it was common for Hollywood to openly pass over actors of colour because of explicitly racist assumptions about whether they could be portrayed as having positive traits. The contention that this could not tacitly be happening today is questionable at best and risible at worst. That sort of thing is why I told you your dismissiveness is foolish and dickish in almost equal measure.
Too harsh, perhaps. But I've preserved it here because I don't want to pretend like I'm immune to the same factors that irritate someone like Marissa Sammy, and that are major
irritants to nonwhite participants in discussions like this that white participants are typically oblivious to. And I know you're not being wilfully obtuse or trying to be a dick, but I think it's something you've fallen foul of, which is the unseen privilege gap.
shocked and think it constitutes being "up in arms" when someone like Marissa Sammy doesn't like whitewashing because (at least I'm guessing this is the reason) you're largely unaware of what a bleak landscape confronted SF fans of colour looking for positive representations of themselves, or representations of themselves at all, in the genre they loved before the Nineties (and to a lesser but still notable extent still today, hence why Racebending.com exists). It seems like it shouldn't be a big deal to you
because you've never had to think about it. But it's a big deal to someone like Sammy precisely because
of how barren that landscape was. That a character like Uhura was a big deal for Black Americans in the Sixties television landscape was not because they had all this great representation and diversity to choose from; it's rather an incredibly sad
commentary on how racist both SF and television had been to that point.
Today's landscape is not the Sixties, but many of us can still remember times in our lifetime that resonate with those kinds of concerns and that kind of barrenness. Instances of whitewashing concern people not because of the performance of this or that actor necessarily, but because they feel like hints of a trend in a retrograde direction that we want to move away
from instead of back
to. So it's not going to impress those people to be told by someone who has zero clue about those experiences about what being "up in arms" is and whether it's appropriate or not. That isn't up to just you, and that's the most important thing you need to recognize.
This is not to say that an outlet like Racebending.com is always in the right, of course. I think your point about their implying that someone ought to have checked with them before casting Khan -- which Sammy can be read as saying there -- is valid, that's taking it too far. I just happen to think that bog standard attempt to dismiss the whole concern as irrelevant goes equally too far in the other direction.