If there’s one thing that most fans of Star Trek will agree on, it’s the fact that Gene Roddenberry’s vision for the show — and, more optimistically, for human society — was predicated on the idea that all life is valuable, and that the worth of a person should not be judged by their appearance. Much of this was done through the old sci-fi trope of using aliens to stand in for oppressed groups, but Star Trek didn’t rely on the metaphor; it had characters who were part of the ensemble, important and beloved members of the Enterprise crew, who were people of colour. It had background characters who were people of colour. And, here and there, it had anti-heroes and villains who were people of colour … one of whom, Khan Noonian Singh, became well-nigh iconic.
Image 1: “Who is your favorite villain?” ; Actor John Cho (Lt Sulu) answers.
Image 2: TOS Khan looking at a watercolor of himself. Yes, he’s wearing a dastar (Sikh turban)
Image 3: Cumberbatch and Montalbán (as Khan)
And who is now being played by white actor Benedict Cumberbatch in the new JJ Abrams reboot movie, Star Trek: Into Darkness.
We’re all cynical and jaded enough to know the standard dismissal when it comes to matters of media representation: Paramount Pictures and most film studios are not interested in diversity or visibility, they only care about the bottom dollar. Star Trek as a franchise is too much of a juggernaut to affect with boycotts. There are too many people who love it, who love those characters and that world, and will go to see the movie. And for some of these people, this devotion to the idea of a future where even South and East Asian men get to pilot a starship and love swashbuckling, where Black women make Lieutenant on the Enterprise and actually get the boy, will be trivialized and eroded and whitewashed when the most formidable and complex Star Trek baddie becomes a white man named Khan.
It wasn’t perfect in the 60s when Ricardo Montalbán was cast to play Khan (a character explicitly described in the episode script of Space Seed as being Sikh, from the Northern regions of India). But considering all of the barriers to representation that Roddenberry faced from the television networks, having a brown-skinned man play a brown character was a hard-won victory. It’s disappointing and demoralizing that with the commercial power of Star Trek in his hands, JJ Abrams chose not to honour the original spirit of the show, or the symbolic heft of the Khan character, but to wield the whitewash brush for … what? The hopes that casting Benedict Cumberbatch would draw in a few more box office returns? It’s doubly disappointing when you consider that Abrams was a creator of the television show Lost, which had so many well-rounded and beloved characters of colour in 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. This happened with the character of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, as well as ‘Miranda Tate’ in The Dark Knight Rises, who ended up being Talia al Ghul but played by French actress Marion Cotillard. This practice is well in effect in Hollywood; and after the negative press that was generated by angry anti-oppression activists and fans when Paramount had The Last Airbender in the works, studios are wising up. 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.
So the studio has now found a way to keep it secret and underhanded. Racebending.com was there for most of the production of The Last Airbender, and were even able to correspond with Paramount Pictures about it. This time, for Star Trek: Into Darkness, their hiding and opaque practices has managed to silence media watchdogs until the movie’s premiere.
As I said, this racist whitewashing of the character of Khan won’t affect how much money this Trek movie makes. And I’m happy that the franchise is popular, still popular enough to warrant not only a big-budget reboot with fantastic actors but also a sequel with that cast. I’m happy that actors I enjoy like Zoë Saldaña and John Cho are playing characters who mean so much to me, and that they, in respect for the groundbreaking contributions by Nichelle Nichols and George Takei in these roles, have paid homage to that past.
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 Übermensch, 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 that’s why the role has been taken away from actors of colour and given to a white man. Racebending.com has always pointed out that villains are generally played by people with darker skin, and that’s true … unless the villain is one with intelligence, depth, complexity. One who garners sympathy from the audience, or if not sympathy, then — as from Kirk — grudging admiration. What this new Trek movie tells us, what JJ Abrams is telling us, is that no brown-skinned man can accomplish all that. That only by having Khan played by a white actor can the audience engage with and feel for him, believe that he’s smart and capable and a match for our Enterprise crew.
What an enormous and horribly ironic step backwards. For Star Trek, for media representation, and for the vision of a future where we have transcended systemic, racist erasure.
THIS IS PISSING ME OFF
“If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own.”
“Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am - and what I need - is something I have to find out myself.”
“We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own.The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya: “He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.”
“When a tradition gathers enough strength to go on for centuries, you don’t just turn it off one day.”
“When the British came to Igbo land, for instance, at the beginning of the 20th century, and defeated the men in pitched battles in different places, and set up their administrations, the men surrendered. And it was the women who led the first revolt.”
“When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.”
“While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.”
“It is the storyteller who makes us what we are, who creates history. The storyteller creates the memory that the survivors must have - otherwise their surviving would have no meaning.”
“I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past - with all its imperfections - was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them”
“That we are surrounded by deep mysteries is known to all but the incurably ignorant.”
In one of my lectures a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about CVs and Job applications for engineering. I raised my hand to ask a question about social networks because of how vocal I can be about politics with my twitter and facebook.
I said “So if i were to apply for Shell, God forbid, would I have to refrain what I say about them on twitter?”
It’s the ‘God forbid’ that got everyone’s attention. As engineers a lot of us would consider working for the Oil giants: Shell, Exxon, BP etc
Personally however, I don’t see how anyone with any knowledge of history and ounce of ethical knowledge can work for such corrupt capitalistic leeches.
But I am forced to change my attitude because a lot of them have branches in engineering or work with engineering companies. As a Nigerian born, how can I work for a company that actively ruins lives day by day from the country I was raised? How can I do that? The dilemma exists and will continue to do so because oil companies are not dying out, not now, not for the next 60 years.
Admittedly, I shouldn’t have been so confrontational in lectures, I didn’t even know I was that passionate until it came out. I’ve never met anyone who was proud to say they work for Shell? God forbid I ever do work for an oil company. I want to fight them with renewable energy.
thanks guys :D
God is good to me even when I’m not man!
Will be working with a small renewable energy company in Kisumu.
July - September.
Right now, I have to focus on exams but I might have to go to the London embassy. I still hold a Nigerian passport. I have to think about accommodation, flights, aaaaaaaaaah so much.
One step at a time.
“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
At Berea some of the Greeks and Jews “received the Word with all readiness, and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so”
And with such passion is how I should study the Word. It is interesting that they specify ‘daily’. Not a day should go by where we haven’t mulled over something in the Word.
Then Paul goes to Athens and is reasoning with the philosophers, bright and inquisitive minds and about ‘THE UNKNOWN GOD’ Paul says ‘the hope is that we might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being’.
Then he shows a great awareness of the culture he is in by quoting one of their poets. This is how to relate to people, we have to know them and their culture, their books and literature. “For we are also His offspring”.
I wonder who that Greek poet was…
She said “Tip, all I wanna do is feel love, even if I know it ain’t real love
Even if I know a nigga only finna hit it then never call back, I still fuck”
And that’s fucked up
- T. I - Memories Back Then
i know this isn’t love. nothing close to it. common sense does not exist when the dick gets hard. bible verses vaporize when i;m horny. some of the thoughts after climax are the most troubling. “WTF am I doing here?”, “do i even respect myself?”
girls get pissed off when you don’t stay after you nut. they want to cuddle and kiss. and i just want to go. i don’t want to be around.
funny thing is, i’m still a virgin. slutty virgin at that. it puts me at a real disharmony with my conscience though. i’m experimenting. with her body. she says she’s fine with it. i know better.