So what is the big deal with Tilda Swinton’s character in Dr. Strange?
Let me start by saying I have the utmost respect for Tilda Swinton both for her acting prowess and her fearless activism. Furthermore I have no doubt that had she seen how this character would play out she would never have taken the part.
The problem that I see with casting her in this role is not with the casting itself but everything else. The studio has given their line of reasoning as this: they wanted to update an otherwise heavily stereotypical character for the 21st century, feeling that the tired trope of the wise old Asian monk needed some work. So they did what any forward thinking group of ignorant white people would do and cast a woman in the role. Problem solved.
Apparently after that they dusted their hands and considered their work to be done and therefore did nothing to actually make the character less of a walking stereotype at all. They simply cast the whitest white woman they could find, shaved her head, stuck her in a flowing kimono and plunked her down in an opulent set that screams “mysterious Asia”. She then proceeds to train our hero in the mystical arts. So what exactly apart from the casting have they actually changed? Nothing!
This all leaves me screaming “are you fucking kidding me?”
They have taken one of the foremost actresses of our era and turned her into an insulting back handed joke. The rumor is that they didn’t want to lose the Chinese film market, a rich one obviously, by portraying a Tibetan character with a Tibetan actor. Yet they were so lazy and obvious about it that what they made was much, much worse and I really hope the Chinese censors block it based on a dire lack of sensitivity at the very least. What they’re saying with this is,
“Hey China we’re so terrified of your censors that we decided to white wash the only Asian character in here. Enjoy!”
Personally I have no issue with the wise old man character whether it’s Gandolf, Mr. Miyagi, Dumbledore or Chun from Remo Williams, especially Chun. I probably quote his “blessed silence” line once a week at least, basically every time the world just gets too frantic around me and I manage to get it to shut the hell up for a second.
The issue is not the role but rather that the sage ninja master is often the only role presented for Asian actors to play. Well, I suppose there is the “acrobatic buffoon” and the “good child” struggling to meet the unreasonable expectations of their “strict traditional” parents but you begin to see the point.
You can’t justify casting women at the expense of actors of color. here’s a thought maybe they could have cast a non-white woman. Oh My God what a fucking notion! Where do I get these wild ideas?
The solution is not just to eliminate these roles or worse stick white people into them. The answer is to stop classifying actors as “normal” and “exotic”.
Take the movie you have seen most recently and ask yourself would it actually have made a lick of difference if the main character had been an actor other that white?
Would anything actually have had to change materially in the plot to accommodate that switch. This is North America and people of all colors do all the same things, eat pizza, go to the movies, work, go to the beach go to sporting events etc. This is not to discount the richness that other cultures bring to the US and Canada and film and tv can and should draw on that in a respectful way and dare I say with people of that culture in the driver’s seat. I think cbc’s “Kim’s Convenience” is a good example of that.
Immigrant stories need to be told and they need to told by the people who own that experience.
I’m simply stating that a scene doesn’t need to take place in a specific culturally stereotyped setting to have actors of color in it. Antman wouldn’t have to have grown up in “the hood” to have been played by an actor of color. No offense to Paul Rudd but I think he could have been replaced with any number of actors of color with absolutely no changes in dialogue or story.
I mean it might have been good to cast his daughter as a person of color and maybe his ex-wife and oh no I think I’ve uncovered the real problem. It’s a slippery slope when you start to add non-white actors then you have to make the families match and then before you know egads you have so many people of color that you’re accurately reflecting the population of the country! Holy shit we don’t want that.
Actually we do want that. We absolutely do. I think it’s time for art to reflect life more but what do I know?