A few weeks ago, movie trailers came out for Ghost in the Shell, a live action adaptation of an anime, and Doctor Strange, Benedict Cumberbatch’s latest excuse for not doing another season of Sherlock. In Ghost in the Shell, Scarlett Johansson will play a cyborg policewoman who is “supposed” to be Japanese. In Doctor Strange, Tilda Swinton (the White Witch from the Chronicles of Narnia movies) will play an ancient monk who is “supposed” to be Tibetan. And a dude.
People on the Internet weren’t happy that white actresses were playing Asian roles. Critics call this phenomenon “whitewashing.”
“Other ethnic groups are already underrepresented in American movies,” they cry. “Now they’re replacing ethnic characters with white people!”
I don’t want to comment on the anime. That’s Isaac’s territory. When I asked him if he wanted to write about this, he made this face. Without the words, of course, and less adorable.
I feel like I can comment on Doctor Strange because recently screenwriter C. Robert Cargill defended the casting decision. Basically, it was a business decision. If they cast a Tibetan actor or actress, China won’t buy their movie for political reasons. For the same reasons, they can’t cast any Chinese actors or actresses. Marvel admits that this is a “no-win scenario,” but they believe they went with the best possible option.
The Bible tells us that God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11) and in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek (Galatians 3:28). We know that prejudice and discrimination are un-Christian. But how do we apply this to our fiction?
The critics are saying these fictional characters need to be portrayed by Asian people. Is that discriminating against everyone else?
Sure, there’s the issue of being consistent with previous versions of the story. But what if those versions were racial (not even necessarily racist) stereotypes? Should we really use them as the authority?
Marvel is deciding that their ancient master of mystical arts is a woman in the cinematic universe. Why can’t they also decide that she’s not Asian? This is not an issue at all for me, personally.
Whenever someone sees racism or prejudice, I think Christians ought to consider whether it’s intentionally negative before smiting with righteous judgement. In the case of portrayals of fictional characters, critics can aim elsewhere.
Did I just step on a landmine? Any opinions on this issue? Let’s Connect!