Tag Archives: defence

The Swinton-Cho Letters, Part 2: Putting Down a Resurrected Argument or: When Isn’t Art Political?

I began the first installment of this two-parter making note of the long and ultimately wearying experience it has been, starting with Doctor Strange going into pre-production and continuing on to the recent exposure of the Swinton-Cho Letters. While I spent time describing the ups and downs of casting news what I neglected to mention, and what I’m going to focus on today, is the outset and ultimate resurgence of an argument in defence of whitewashing.

That’s right, an argument defending what Wikipedia helpfully defines as “a casting practice [. . .] in which white actors are cast in historically non-white character roles.” The very faint silver lining is that the justification here does not revolve around star power and A-list draw, or the idea that “the best person for the role” was hired, the latter of which rarely ever swings the other direction. In spite of not being deeply rooted in these ways of thinking, however, the argument is remains deeply flawed.

Before we get into that, however, we should probably get to its origin story.

Like I Said Last Time, “It’s Always Podcasts”

Having to hit all of this again it’s important to be thankful for small blessings, with one being that I don’t need to hear C. Robert Cargill’s voice again due to already having done the research for another post. The person in question was one of the screenwriters for Doctor Strange, and dropped in on the  Double Toasted podcast mid-April to answer a few questions about it.

Eventually, and unsurprisingly, the issue of the Ancient One’s casting was brought up. Cargill’s response, as transcribed by CINEMABLEND’s “The Blunt, Yet Difficult Reason Doctor Strange’s Ancient One Isn’t Asian”, is as follows:

“The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in a very weird political place. He originates from Tibet. So if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that’s bullshit and risk the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.’ If we decide to go the other way and cater to China in particular and have him be in Tibet [. . .] If you think it’s a good idea to cast a Chinese actress as a Tibetan character, you are out of your damn fool mind and have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about.”

In essence Cargill chalked the reasons for the casting decision up to politics and economics, implying that having the character played by a Tibetan would cause Marvel Studios to lose out on Chinese box office sales. He also suggests quite strongly that, conversely, having a Chinese actor play a Tibetan would cause a large amount of controversy. This was picked up by sites from IndieWire to ScreenRant to The Hollywood Reporter, with several using words like “reveal” in their headlines, as if a longstanding mystery had finally been solved.

The justifications he laid out were to become the go-to response for every commenter looking to defend the Swinton’s casting, and why not? After all, as one of the screenwriters of the film Cargill should be a direct and dependable source. The answer to that hypothetical starts with what happened a few short days later- Continue reading

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“Rape”: A Continuation

The second post I ever wrote on this blog was about the word “rape,” and since then it has not ceased to be an issue. A number of events have occurred in the past couple of months, and re-reading many of them this week has reminded me what a big deal it can be.

About a month ago stand-up comedian Daniel Tosh was doing a show when an audience member commented on the bit he was doing. He had been going on about how hilarious rape jokes were [his position: always], when the woman interrupted him by yelling “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” She reports that Tosh responded with the words: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now?”

John Seavey, one of the writers on Mightygodking, wrote a response to what happened, titled “From the “How To Be A Decent Human Being” File….” In it he decried Tosh’s response to the woman, and basically lay down that freedom of speech or not, threatening someone sexually is not something you ever do.

I talked to Gordon about this yesterday, and not to turn this into another “Evan and Gordon Talk” post, but I had to add just a little of our conclusion to this one:

[after agreeing that probably no one in the audience actually took Tosh’s words “seriously.”]

EVAN: I mean, I guess we can both be on the level that to at least one member involved, Tosh, it was not a threat.

GORDON: Agreed. You also promised to crap in my bed. [I will not deny this -E.]

EVAN: Valid, but 1/5 of all Gordons don’t have their beds crapped in.

Similar to my first post on the word, there are those out there who believe that this is all a matter of sensitivity. Comedians like Louis C.K. have defended Tosh‘s right to free speech. Others on the internet have taken more creative avenues to back up the “rape joke” that was made [warning for language and content]:


The video, for those who don’t feel like or want to watch it, is a press conference with the character “F-ck Bot 5000.” He answers that rape jokes are off limits, while jokes about “9/11,” “dead babies,” and “making fun of autistic children” are perfectly acceptable. The point being, from what I can tell, that people are being overly sensitive about a particular buzzword, but letting these other topics slide completely.

Then, of course, there’s the whole “legitimate rape” thing. On August 19th Todd Akin, Republican nominee for the state of Missouri Todd, told KTVI-TV that “First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Now I’m no Biology major, but I have friends who are, and none of them can back up his claims. His words have, of course, created quite the uproar on the internet. Jezebel compiled a very thorough “Official Guide to Legitimate Rape,” which compiles the ways in which the word and act have been portrayed in past years. I strongly recommend checking it out.

Finally, game designer James Desborough wrote a post this past June entitled “In Defence of Rape.” After admitting that the title is instigative at best, he, and this is a direct quote, states “Rape or attempted rape is a f-cking awesome plot element, one of many.”

Gordon and I talked about this one as well, and the issue is, at the heart of his argument, not wrong. The gist of what he’s saying is [and I quote Gordon] “Look, rape can be an effective and powerful storytelling element, so long as it isn’t trivialized.” And that’s not something I can disagree with.

What I can disagree with is his statement that “I’m not prepared to take spurious claims about ‘rape culture’ etc at face value without something substantive to back them up.” It’s one that he uses to defend his argument, lumping “rape culture” in with the “‘all men are bastards’ argument.” I don’t see what can be more substantive than the gigabytes of rape porn on the internet. I mean, it’s not like it’s hiding or anything. If some weirdo gets off on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo then that’s one instance, but the people creating rape porn for a very large audience is not.

Rape is, as ever, a hotly debated issue. While we can always say that people are being too sensitive, the fact is that it is a very real, legitimate act that happens more than once a minute. It’s not something to be made light of, and especially not something to “jokingly threaten” someone with. It is also not something that can simply be thrown around in speech without strong knowledge of what’s being talked about.