This is mostly links to what some other people have written, but it’s a point I wanted to discuss with the people here.
Warning: Spoilers for Star Trek! (Which is ironic, if you read the links below.)
For the two people who don’t know, the new Star Trek movie cast very very white Benedict Cumberbatch as the iconic Star Trek villain Khan, a role that was made iconic by Ricardo Montalbán, a man of color.
As would be expected, a lot of people are complaining vociferously about the whitewashing, including me. (And the other racism in the movie, and the sexism . . .) As well we should! But whitewashing isn’t new; Hollywood does it all the damn time.
Where Star Trek Into Darkness is unique is that the powers that be attached their whitewashing to a plot point they explicitly coded as SUPER SEKRIT. This didn’t strike me until it was pointed out to me, but now I can’t stop thinking about it.
Add to this the secrecy prior to release around Cumberbatch’s role in the film, and what seems like a casting move that would typically be defended by cries of ‘best actor for the job, not racism’ becomes something more cunning, more malicious. Yes, the obfuscation creates intrigue around and interest in the role, but it also prevents advocacy groups like Racebending.com from building campaigns to protest the whitewashing. [...] They don’t want their racist practices to be called out, pointed at, and exposed before their movies are released—Airbender proved that these protests create enough bad feeling to affect their bottom line. [...] This time, for Star Trek: Into Darkness, their hiding and opaque practices has managed to silence media watchdogs until the movie’s premiere.
User Greywash on Dreamwidth goes even further:
And this is why I am so angry. The filmmakers, either deliberately or accidentally (SPOILER: I COMPLETELY 100% THINK IT WAS DELIBERATE) manipulated a social custom of their fanbase to limit the amount of potentially revenue-reducing communication that would occur between fans. They have put me in the revolting position of having to put something that I know that a nonzero number of people reading this would consider to merit boycotting this movie in its entirety behind a cut. The makers of Star Trek have not only done something tactless, insensitive, and racist, they have made it hard to talk about, they have made it hard for people to find out about, and they have made it easy for people who would not give them money for it to give them money for it, unknowingly, unwittingly, and unwillingly.
And in the comments to Greywash’s article, there’s a fantastic comparison to Iron Man 3 and how those producers handled the publicity regarding people’s fears of racism in The Mandarin. I won’t say more or quote because if you haven’t seen Iron Man 3 yet you should see it unspoiled, but follow the link if you’ve already seen it!
The one good thing that seems to have come out of the SUPER SEKRITNESS of Cumberbatch playing Khan is that John Cho was able to give the proverbial finger to the casting. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the video (also embedded below). Skip to 1:48. The stars are being asked in a pre-release promo who their favorite ST villain is, and several of them are shown saying, “Benedict Cumberbatch in this upcoming movie! It’s going to be awesome!” What does John Cho say?
“Ricardo Montalbán as Khan. He was badass. And a man of color, I might add.”
And the rest of the cast, who all know he’s CURRENTLY BEING WHITEWASHED IN THE UPCOMING MOVIE, laugh nervously. (FUCK YEAH JOHN CHO.) It’s a small retaliation, but I wonder if the powers that be knew they’d be allowing their cast to shoot them in the foot when they insisted on the secrecy. (And if they fire John Cho for this, I will never give the reboot franchise another dime.)
What do you all think? Did the producers hammer on the unnecessary secrecy intentionally to avoid bad pre-release publicity? Is there any way to deal with it if/when producers pull similar shenanigans in the future?