My gripes with Asian casting and character naming in Paramount+ Trek

Discussion in 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' started by Enterprise1701, Jan 2, 2023.

  1. Enterprise1701

    Enterprise1701 Commodore Commodore

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    Moderators, you may move this thread to the general forum if you see fit. I am posting here in the SNW forum because the recent season 1 will be the main focus of my starting post.

    Look at all these actors of West Asian, South Asian, and East Asian ancestry and the characters whom they portray in Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Notice any particular trend with those names?

    Michelle Yeoh plays Captain Philippa Georgiou
    Patrick Kwok-Choon plays Lieutenant Gen Rhys
    Ali Momen plays Lieutenant Kamran Gant
    Rekha Sharma plays Commander Ellen Landry
    Shazad Latif plays Lieutenant Ash Tyler
    Oded Fehr plays Fleet Admiral Charles Vance
    Christina Chong plays Lieutenant La'an Noonien-Singh
    André Dae Kim plays Chief Kyle
    Rong Fu plays Lieutenant Jenna Mitchell
    Jennifer Hui plays Ensign Christina
    Shawn Ahmed plays Ensign Shankar

    It's like Kurtzman's Paramount+ team goes out of their way to assign roles with plausibly White (American) names to actors of Asian ancestry all while riding the fandom social movement of 'diversity' and 'representation' in sync with the fictitious Vulcan ideal of IDIC. But as someone of Asian background who has had a lifetime of experience being alone or almost alone among White people, I cannot praise current Trek in this respect.

    To be sure, a major logistical factor in this business is starting with a character name and then casting race-blind for an actor. And I admire how they worked with Shazad Latif to honor his late father Javid Iqbal with the Voq credit in DIS season 1. But when I see the continuing trend of Asian people named like White Americans in a disproportionate and/or unrealistic way, I frankly feel insulted.

    Now yes, there are plenty of Asian citizens and diaspora Asians with names which sound strongly European. Jessica Henwick was born to an English father. Chloe Wang customized her public name with her father's given name as Chloe Bennet to avoid industry discrimination. Dinesh D'Souza is from a Goan family converted by the Portuguese to Catholicism. But constantly implying such backgrounds as some kind of standard for Asian personal names in Star Trek does not sit right with me. Where are the Trek Asians who are named like Donnie Yen Chi-tan or Bong Joon-ho or Ke Huy Quan? Even Eugene Cordero in Lower Decks voices Samanthan Rutherford, implying a Filipino human whose family decided to switch from worshiping Spanish colonialism to worshiping U.S. colonialism or else that the nominally monoracial Cordero is only good for performing a multiracial character.

    It's like the Kenya Barris scenario. In work after work, the Black American producer basically fetishizes half-Black half-White women in mimicry of his wife, all while receiving lots of funding from White-controlled companies and support from White fans. The result is a constant barrage of subliminal messaging that Black women are only good if they are as light-skinned as possible.

    And finally, the premise of La'an Noonien-Singh. Christina Chong has no ties to South Asia. She works about as well as Benedict Cumberbatch for a blood descendant of an infamous human identified as part of a North Indian Sikh lineage. Yes, centuries have passed since Khan's heyday (in the 2020s, as PIC season 3 and SNW season 1 imply a future work will depict). But I consider the realistic genetic drift and intermarriage to be irrelevant here because the show itself specifically exploited the Khan familial ties for fanservice pandering to segue into the bigotry plot involving Number One. DIS and SNW explicitly established Christopher Pike as having a California and Montana background analogous to the real life 21st century United States. Same for Joseph M'Benga of Kenya, and there is a very good chance Sam and Jim Kirk will get to revisit Iowa onscreen in a future season. Why can't Christina Chong or La'an Noonien-Singh get some realism?

    It's bad enough that CBS / Paramount learned nothing from screwing South Asian fans out of seeing one of their own in the name 'Singh' for a worldwide theatrical film. It's worse that Chong was given the dialogue that somehow, her character can whine about being oppressed for a surname evoking her infamous ancestor, but legal name changes are not an obvious solution in the 23rd century as I am sure countless relatives of Adolf Hitler availed themselves in the 20th century. Chong does a perfectly great job in television! But this face does not match the name and backstory. I have met many people whose faces, names, and backstories matched for real-life analogues of Khan. What's wrong with them?
     
  2. FederationHistorian

    FederationHistorian Commodore Commodore

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    I think these castings are trying to state that race doesn’t matter (see the debates over Robert April from his differing appearances in SNW and TAS). Especially 200 years into the future after centuries of mixing between different ethnicities. And there have been Asian actors with Asian names before (George Takei as Sulu, Garrett Wang as Harry Kim, Linda Park as Hoshi Sato), with there having been debates about that too (Sulu being Japanese while having a Filipino last name, Kim being Chinese with a Korean name, Sato being Korean while having a Japanese name). It even extended to some wondering if Emperor Georgiou was a descendant of Empress Sato, just because they were both Asian (as far as we know on that topic, the answer is no and is a huge assumption to make.).

    No L’aan isn’t South Asian. But Khan Noonien Singh canonically ruled over 40 nations from North Africa to Asia. One of them could have been China, and he could have had many offspring like Genghis Khan.

    With Cumberbatch Khan, my headcanon likes to think he was just secretly a big fan of Michael Jackson and that's really why he agreed to the procedure to radically change his appearance.
     
  3. Serveaux

    Serveaux Fleet Admiral Premium Member

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    Yes, and doing it in the time-honored Trek fashion of erasing truly non-Western cultures.

    There is more diversity of culture, custom and language within a ten mile radius of my home than in the entire Federation of Planets.
     
  4. David cgc

    David cgc Admiral Premium Member

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    It is an interesting pattern in the new Trek shows. I can see, and part of me appreciates, the sci-fi argument that after a few hundred years of easy international travel, it'll be much less likely to guess what someone looks like based on their family name. However, if that were the case, you'd expect to see just as many characters with conspicuously asian last names played by non-Asian actors (as was the case in "Firefly's" River & Simon Tam, or the new "Battlestar Galactica's" Louis Hoshi, though those shows had their own issues with imbalanced casting demographics). And, even though it's an interesting idea that in hundreds or thousands of years human ethnic groups will have by and large blurred together and be far less distinct, that's not the world we live in now, and you have to cast actors and play to audiences of today.

    There's nothing stopping them from changing the name or conforming the character's background to something that makes more sense based on the person they ended up casting. For instance, almost all of the main characters of Stargate Universe had their names changed after they were cast with real people. While I expect some happened for standard legal or creative reasons (I expect "Eli Hitchcock" was eventually decided to be a little on-the-nose for a movie buff, who, inexplicably, never saw Butch Cassidy), "Tamara Jon" to "Tamara Johansen" and "Ron 'Psycho' Stasiak" to "Ronald Greer" were defintiely done because even though the casting calls suggested the characters were of Asian and eastern-European heritage, the actors weren't. Of course, it was also set in the present day, so they couldn't fall back on the excuse that "it's the future, maybe they have some random ancestor from an unexpected country."

    That's another weird case. David Mack's prequel novel suggested "Georgiou" was her married name which she decided to keep after she divorced her husband, but DSC itself made that unlikely with her counterpart having the same name, but the show also made it explicit she grew up in Malaysia, just like Michelle Yeoh.
     
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  5. Serveaux

    Serveaux Fleet Admiral Premium Member

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    Yep.
     
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  6. Sci

    Sci Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    This is a very fair criticism. Thank you for sharing your concern. Hopefully we'll start to see better representation of Asian cultures instead of "Westernization."
     
  7. Laura Cynthia Chambers

    Laura Cynthia Chambers Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The problem is that with so many of the alien planets being "planet(s) of hats" (see https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PlanetOfHats), it means that cultural aspects which are represented in shows about Earth by different Human cultures, such as being deeply reverently religious, martial, philosophical, etc. are so often and well-represented by alien cultures in Trek that all Humans tend to be tarred with the same Human brush - they may be different, but it's less culture and more personality, and to a lesser extent, compared to and contrasted with the aliens they marry/befriend/encounter.

    Essentially, having a distinct culture is for aliens - you can make stuff up and not get it wrong (more creativity), you can draw parallels with an Earth culture in the real world without having to explain why Humans maintain their old ways - oh, it's the aliens, people are more enlightened now.
     
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  8. The Wormhole

    The Wormhole Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    The intent with Firefly was that all the rich people would have Asian names to reflect that their world was a predominantly Chinese one. Though that just leads to one of the few legitimate criticisms of Firefly out there, if they lived in a predominantly Chinese culture, why were there no Asian people with speaking roles at all in the series or movie?
     
  9. Enterprise1701

    Enterprise1701 Commodore Commodore

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    I really hope that bit in Desperate Hours was not written with the foreknowledge of the mirror universe arc in season 1 part 2 because assuming that mirror Georgiou had to steal her husband's name when she usurped the throne or whatnot just really reeks of being a terrible excuse to shoehorn in Anglo-American marriage custom, even if Terrans are known for valuing conquest and spoils of war.

    For Pete's sake, Ho Ching (何晶), first lady of Singapore, famously Malaysia's sibling country next door and another ex-British colony, never changed her surname upon marriage to the Lee dynasty. That is not our Chinese descendant way! (Also, the Anglo excuse of unifying a family group's surname does not apply here because by all accounts neither Georgiou has any biological children with any former spouse.)
     
  10. valkyrie013

    valkyrie013 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Here here.
    I for one have been championing actual diversity. And what you said rings true, it's a bad troupe of, we cast an Asian.. Well you cast a Korean to play a persin from japan.. Close enough.. Ah, no. Change the name or change the actor.

    For example, There was nothing in Hoshis background that couldnt have been changed to Korean, even a korean name for the character.
    Same for most if not all of the Asian characters.
     
  11. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    It's worth pointing out that Ricardo Montalban was white. He was born in Mexico, but his parents were immigrants from Spain. He was painted in brownface to play Khan in "Space Seed," but in The Wrath of Khan, he had his natural skin color, which was not significantly different from Cumberbatch's (allowing for someone living in Mexico or California having a better tan than someone living in London). So since Khan is light-skinned in two out of his three appearances, I think it makes more sense to count "Space Seed" as the odd one out, not STID. After all, there are people of European descent living in South Asia, and Sikhs are a religion, not an ethnic group. So there's no reason why Khan couldn't have been white.

    Certainly I would've preferred it if STID had cast a different actor as Khan; I would've voted for Naveen Andrews. I'm just saying that there isn't really a discrepancy between Montalban and Cumberbatch.


    Heck, it's not just a lack of Asian names. Trek character names' origins have always been disproportionately from the British Isles or occasionally Europe. The diversity of name origins has always been astonishingly narrow, no matter how diverse the actors were.


    I dunno -- there are lots of bi- and multiracial actors out there, more than ever in the current generation, since that blurring is already happening to a degree in the North American population. I think I have seen the occasional production where characters from the future were played mostly by multiracial actors, though I can't think of an example offhand. At least I can think of a couple of examples of shows set in the future whose lead performers were biracial, e.g. Hannah John-Kamen in Killjoys and Melissa O'Neil in Dark Matter.


    The Good Place did that too. When the roles were cast, "Chris" became Chidi Anagonye and "Tessa" became Tahani Al-Jamil.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2023
  12. Nombrecomun

    Nombrecomun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    I get the point but, while it is nice to see diversity represented by different skin colours and facial features(superficial), the world of Star Trek has always really been American and by extent Western. Occasionally you do get some throw away character 'Santos' or something like that but it's far in between and not very meaningful. More to the point, it's a franchise written by white folks who tend to live in a bubble and/or are forced to be in that bubble to work.

    I'll give you my story which I remember sharing in Trekweb when STID came out along with the very British white Khan. I'm Indian. My wife is Chinese. Our kids are a mix of course but not identifiably as Indian or Chinese. Now, imagine either one of them marrying and having kids. We live in the San Francisco Area. The odds of having kids with people that don't look like them are high: white, black, Latino(which by itself is a combo of different genetic mixes), etc...It's not far fetched to think there might be a white British guy with an Indian surname a couple of hundred of years from now. That could be my grandkid in 15 years. Considering the population of China, we should be seeing a lot of people in future scifi stories surnamed 'Li' regardless of genetic background. Or Patel, Gupta, Singh, etc... for that matter

    Having said that, I do appreciate seeing a variety of colours on the screen regardless of what their names are....but I agree that is something that needs to be addressed as well.

    I suppose the pushback could be to see something horrendously done like Chakotay.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2023
  13. Serveaux

    Serveaux Fleet Admiral Premium Member

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    Yes.
     
  14. David cgc

    David cgc Admiral Premium Member

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    Robert Hewitt Wolfe just answered a question about this on his Tumblr a few days ago:

     
  15. The Wormhole

    The Wormhole Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    It wouldn't have been. Desperate Hours was written while Fuller was still in charge of the show, and the Mirror Universe wasn't part of his plan for the first season. In his version, Lorca would instead have been from another alternate reality, one where the Battle of the Binary Stars turned out different and Michael was celebrated the hero who prevented a war between the Federation and the Klingons. It was the writers who took over after Fuller left who decided to instead have Lorca be from the Mirror Universe.
     
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  16. valkyrie013

    valkyrie013 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I wouldn't say "Bubble" but I would say that the writers weren't pushed to much to "Get it right" As said, oh Japanese character, insert someone from Any asian country..
    From what was posted on Robert Hewitt Wolfe, is that they tried to do some diversity, it just back then, they didn't get any pushback on diversity like now. Progress times times sometimes, but we can't judge the past by current standards.
    I remember watching 60's mission impossible, and they had Lenonard Nimoy play an Asian character! They just didn't care at all back then. ( Think also James Bond, Done the same with Sean Connery) So, am happy its trending to being fixed, but its not there yet.
     
  17. somebuddyX

    somebuddyX Commodore Commodore

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    My thought is they just think up generic white person name for a character because it's just the default of the writer creating the name and they can cast the widest net for casting that character with an actor/actress. If you name someone Wasim you're gonna want to cast middle-eastern but if you name them Fred Bloggs you can then pick whichever actor you want that's best. Is this what they were actually doing, I don't know. There's probably some thought about it being post-racial whatever but probably should have just given a name change.
     
  18. Tallguy

    Tallguy Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    That would be fun. They should try it. (Firefly was too small and too weird to be noticed. Plus it was 2002.)

    I'd love to see the response. Maybe I'm too pessimistic and it would be boring.
     
  19. Tuskin38

    Tuskin38 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Interestingly there was a later DSC novel that took place in a universe similar to that.
     
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  20. Laura Cynthia Chambers

    Laura Cynthia Chambers Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Some Western names carry with them a certain sound that Eastern names haven't acquired yet. So a character named Donfried Westergarth the Seventh sounds aristocratic to just about everyone, while Nick Jones sounds down-to-Earth and friendly, to name just a couple of examples.

    Eastern names don't carry the same rich and poor/personality/physical appearance ideas on them, at least to the wide majority of folks, unless they know what the name means. In the past, an Asian or Indian, etc, name carried connotations of their own - mysterious, exotic, foreign, sometimes imposing.
     
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