The Return of Mighty Marvel Monday
Welcome back to another Mighty Marvel Monday! I apologize for taking an unannounced break last week, but life is sometimes unannounced, and you have to take time to deal with it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But I have returned, with many, many links for you.
First up–good news! It feels like I never get to share good news about Marvel, so I am very pleased to share that Netflix’s Jessica Jones just won a Peabody Award. This is pretty big news for Marvel, Netflix, and Melissa Rosenberg. And it’s also good to be reminded that sometimes, Marvel inspired people to create good things.
Other good things, or at least, WWAC-related goodness! In case you missed it, WWAC published this incredible essay on race and romance in season two of Daredevil. We also published a roundtable on why Good Girls Like Gambit, and this no holds barred review of the Doctor Strange trailer, which inspired me to make this poster:
I take a break for a week after talking about Doctor Strange casting bullshit, and return to find more Doctor Strange casting bullshit. C. Robert Cargill, one of the Doctor Strange screenwriters, recently gave a very tone deaf interview on the whole Tilda Swinton as The Ancient one thing. The whole interview is filled with things that make me cringe, but this excerpt is probably the worst:
“So what Scott [Derrickson] decided to do…He said, ‘There is no real way to win this so let’s use this opportunity to cast an amazing actress in a male role,’” explained Cargill. “And sure enough, there’s not a lot of talk about ‘Aw, they took away a job from a guy and gave it to a women.’ Everyone kind of pats us on the back for that but then scolds us for her not being Tibetan.”
Adding, “That’s just the way it’s going to be. We knew that the social justice warriors would be angry either way.”
I’m not going to get into why it’s so incredibly important for these kinds of roles to not be whitewashed–especially in a movie that relies so heavily upon orientalism–because there’s a vocal Asian-American and international Asian diaspora community already saying this. But I will say that I am side-eyeing Marvel pretty hard for this, because it indicates that Marvel believes they can leverage gender representation against race representation, which violates one of the central tenets of intersectional feminism, and is just plain shitty, overall.
Also, in case you’re wondering what Swinton has to say about this whole thing, The Hollywood Reporter actually asked Tilda Swinton about the whitewashing, and her reply was not particularly good. Since Marvel is paying her and she will, eventually, have to do press on this movie, it’s also not particularly surprising. Maybe in another year, when all this is over, she will actually be able to speak freely on the subject, and, even more importantly, I hope she doesn’t accept another role like this, however it’s presented to her.
Swinton’s comments about how the character was not presented as a Tibetan man made me think about what people said about the casting of Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin back in 2012, before they’d seen the film, and even after. That handling was also, as the expression goes, “problematic.” But this is different. When I was looking for articles on this issue, I happened upon this article, and Kelly Konda expresses many of the same concerns that I’ve been musing on in terms of the handling of The Mandarin in Iron Man 3 compared to what’s happening with Doctor Strange, which basically boils down to the fact that Iron Man 3 was not also steeped heavily in orientalism. The problem with Swinton’s casting is more along the lines of the problem of casting Finn Jones as Danny Rand.
As has already been stated by many Asian-Americans and other members of the Asian diaspora community, Danny Rand provided Marvel with an opportunity for the character to be reclaimed, which, though it does not erase the racist origins of the character, would at least have provided a new narrative and a new hero for a community that is significantly underrepresented.
But the idea that casting anyone as The Ancient One was a no-win scenario is preposterous. Anyone who is a Star Trek fan knows that the Kobayashi Maru wasn’t actually a no-win scenario. It just required some out-of-the box thinking and someone brave enough to take the risk to challenge traditional thinking. Casting a white woman, no matter how ethereal-looking and talented, isn’t risky, or uncommon. It’s 2016. You have a character who is traditionally a Tibetan man. How is “let’s cast someone Asian” not just an option, but the only option? If Marvel wanted an ethereal/otherworldly actress for their Ancient One, who is no longer Tibetan (because China) but instead Nepalese, they had many other casting choices they could have made. Like, say, Dichen Lachman.
Of course, casting an Asian woman as The Ancient One would not negate any of the other problems the movie has in terms of is representation, or justify the orientalism, or address the utterly boring cliched premise that has Steven on some kind of midlife crisis/spiritual pilgrimage. But this conversation about whitewashing that Marvel is a part of was entirely of its own making, and one they should have seen coming.
I also think that the context of the backlash Marvel is getting is important. This is after the lack of an Asian-American Danny Rand. This is after not just one but two seasons of Daredevil that are really not good on Asian representation. And this is in tandem with Scar Jo’s casting as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell. And after a series of whitewashed Asian roles in films. And whitewashed films, generally speaking, all of which did poorly at the box office. When Buzzfeed writes an article about why this is bad, you know the culture has changed.
Keith Chow from Nerds of Color’s recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about how castings like Swinton’s (and Scar Jo’s) are indicative of the systemic problem that Hollywood has. Systems like these won’t change overnight. But people are already committing to boycotting the film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if when it comes out, it has the lowest box office of any Marvel film since Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. In fact, I hope it does.
But Marvel still has a chance to show that they can do better with Iron Fist and The Defenders, which the Daredevil showrunners will also be showrunning. Unfortunately, the first pictures of Finn Jones as Danny Rand do not give me confidence that they intend to do so, unless they’re planning on interrogating why he looks like he just got back from Coachella.
Moving on to an important announcement. Since I write this column and I don’t get to see Captain America: Civil War until May 5th, I won’t be reading or linking to any reviews until the May 9th Mighty Marvel Monday. I know a lot of people have already seen it, but this is my column and since I will also be writing a review of the movie, I’m avoiding other people’s reviews. If the meantime, if you want to be reminded of WWAC’S collective thoughts on the Civil War comics even and on the movie, back when the first trailer was released, look no further.
Also, in the days before the movie’s release, WWAC will be holding a rewatch event and livetweeting. If that’s too much commitment for you, though, I recommend you take the next 7 minutes and watch this suburb supercut trailer by the MCU exchange, which tracks this narrative thread through the MCU and Marvel television–both ABC and Netflix.
The Civil War press tour is in full swing, but this might be my favorite thing so far, partly because Chris Evans is trying so hard not to crack up and failing utterly.
— People (@people) April 21, 2016