National treasure George Takei is going in hard on Marvel. The social media icon took to his Facebook account to post about Marvel’s casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in the upcoming Doctor Strange film. He initially focused on the backpedaling done by Marvel in which they cast blame on the Chinese market as their reasoning to avoid association with Tibet. “So let me get this straight. You cast a white actress so you wouldn’t hurt sales … in Asia? This backpedaling is nearly as cringeworthy as the casting. Marvel must think we’re all idiots,” writes Takei. “Marvel already addressed the Tibetan question by setting the action and the Ancient One in Kathmandu, Nepal, in the film. It wouldn’t have mattered to the Chinese government by that point whether the character was white or Asian, as it was already in another country. So this is a red herring, and it’s insulting that they expect us to buy their explanation. They cast Tilda because they believe white audiences want to see white faces. Audiences, too, should be aware of how dumb and out of touch the studios think we are.”
In the comments, Takei argues that the casting is representative of a deeper systemic problem of casting white actors in Asian roles:
To those who say, “She an actress, this is fiction,” remember that Hollywood has been casting white actors in Asian roles for decades now, and we can’t keep pretending there isn’t something deeper at work here. If it were true that actors of Asian descent were being offered choice roles in films, these arguments might prevail. But there has been a long standing practice of taking roles that were originally Asian and rewriting them for white actors to play, leaving Asians invisible on the screen and underemployed as actors. This is a very real problem, not an abstract one. It is not about political correctness, it is about correcting systemic exclusion. Do you see the difference?
He also addressed various reader rebuttals. For one, he wants to point out that the idea of “color-blind casting” (that casting should occur without regard to a person’s race or ethnicity) only works if there were equity in Hollywood. The end result here is simply that there are fewer actors of Asian descent getting major studio roles.
I fear you miss my point. I’m not against colorblind casting. That is to say, when there is a role that can be played by a black actor or an Asian one (such as Hermione in the play in London), then I welcome it. But here we are talking about the systematic erasure of Asian faces from film and media. It is so prevalent that even when there IS an Asian role that could be played by an Asian actor, it is given instead to a white actor. Do you not see the issue here? We are talking about systemic exclusion, lack of opportunity, and invisibility of a whole segment of our society, because Hollywood is afraid to take chances with ethnic actors. Instead, we are the butt of jokes (as the Oscars telecast showed) or are cast only in certain roles that continue to marginalize us and send signals to society that we are not leading men and women. I have a real problem with that, and I’m the happy exception to all of this. But I feel for my fellow Asian American actors who cannot find work because what little work there is gets “whitewashed” for others to play.