Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cop Out: Doctor Strange and The Ancient One

Captain America: Civil War opens next week and is on track to rake in $170-$190 bucks over the weekend. The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps on trucking with newly announced Spider-Man: Homecoming with Sony and November's Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch debuted it's trailer recently. Strange looks great, a visual mix of The Shadow and Inception to my eyes concerning cocky surgeon Stephen Strange who after a near death car accident, finds himself in Tibet learning the "mystic arts" to become the Sorcerer Supreme. Things took a turn for the weird when excellent actress Tilda Swinton showed up as his mentor aka The Ancient One from comics lore. In the pages though, One is an old Tibetan man not a bald white Tilda Swinton in robes. Then you had Baron Mordo, a white, Transylvanian nobleman in the comics being played by excellent actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, a black guy. Since then, along with Scarlett Johanson taking the lead role of Japanese manga Ghost In The Shell, online cries of white washing have given both films a bit of unwanted attention.

First off, we all know that Hollywood is a business that sees green over any other color, race, ethnicity, religion, what have you. So ScarJo taking the lead in a big budget flick based on a Japanese media isn't a shock, she's got a successful track record, a face that's put on magazines and is a movie star. But if she's playing Motoko Kusangagi instead of say, Margaret Kursan, it seems problematic. Take a cue from Edge of Tomorrow where a Japanese manga was turned into a Tom Cruise vehicle, not a direct and faithful adaptation of All You Need Is Kill. The film was inspired by the previous work, the creators got paid for the rights and the film told it's story in another medium. If anything, loosely basing a Tom Cruise film on a manga gave the book more attention than it probably would have gotten without it. No fuss, no muss.

On the Marvel front, Swinton herself has chimed in that she was not hired to play an Asian man, co-writer C. Robert Cargill more or less said it boiled down to 1) Old Asian man is a stereotype and 2) You can't mention Tibet if you want to get China money. Marvel responded they have a history of diversity in casting it's films and this version of The Ancient One is Celtic. To me, they could have just said, "we wanted to cast Tilda Swinton" and left it at that. But instead, this all just seems like a giant cop out. If old Asian Man is a stereotype, Tibet acknowledgement and Chinese box office are the main concerns, then don't call it Tibet, make up a fictional country in Asia. Marvel already has the faux nations of Wakanda, Latveria and Sokovia among others in Africa and Europe. Don't want to portray a stereotype? Then create a character that is well rounded and kick ass to teach Doctor Strange. Better yet, cast an actor that has box office clout in China. Now you have a positive Asian character and your Chinese movie chedda. But if you just wanted to get a respected, elder actor into the Marvel formula a la Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Redford or Michael Douglas then just say and do so. Don't offer up half ass excuses instead.

What about Ejiofor taking over as Mordo, isn't that reverse white washing? Back in 2004 there was a little chatter about Michael Clarke Duncan taking the role of Kingpin in the Ben Affleck version of Daredevil after the director was only finding bland bodybuilder or fat wrestlers. There was another low rumbling when Idris Elba took the mantle of supporting character Heimdall in Thor. Then there was quite a bit of expressed venom concerning Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in reboot dud The Fantastic Four. So it seems like a sliding scale of concern depending on how major a character it is. But it's not like producers contemplated having Will Smith play Superman or Captain America right? Actually, apparently they did but the actor didn't want to mess with white people heroes. No one is going to argue that Ejiofor is a solid actor but including him in the film feeds into Marvel's growing habit of giving their white heroes black/minotiry sidekicks. After Ejiofor you've got Anthony Mackie backing up Chris Evans, Don Cheadle there for Robert Downey Jr., while Paul Rudd got Michael Pena. That's diversity to a degree but it's not like this or any Hollywood film will lack in white actors on the poster or trailer. Meanwhile Benedict Wong was nowhere to be seen in the preview. We'll see how Marvel navigates these new choppy waters. But I'm sure the film will be excellent and rake in a couple bucks.

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