Marvel probably didn’t realize the trouble it was getting into when it cast Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange. The character’s a Tibetan mystic in the comics, but is now “Celtic” in the films, an argument from Marvel that has not caught on with the likes of George Takei, who dismantled the studio’s argument in a Facebook post this weekend. But the anger over Marvel’s shortsightedness and over the casting of Scarlett Johansson in an adaptation of Ghost in the Shell — among other erasures of Asian and Asian-American characters in films — has given activists a forum to air their grievances about Hollywood’s continuing failure to represent Asian-American characters and viewpoints. Margaret Cho, who recently criticized the Absolutely Fabulous movie for “racist” yellowface, led a discussion on Twitter today with Keith Chow of Nerds of Color and Ellen Oh about the dangers of letting a racist system lie.
The conversation centers on the way current standards reinforce a stereotypical understanding of Asian-American people and often leave viewers hungry for more fully rounded representation that never materializes. There are also stories from those working in the industry and examples of whitewashed projects like Pan that completely tanked, while those more interested in telling stories from non-white viewpoints, like Big Hero 6 and the Fast and Furious franchise, have done well. Hollywood might keep making the same mistakes, but its apologies aren’t getting a pass anymore.