Tag Archives: Scott Derrickson

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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Asian Comic Book Fan Watches Doctor Strange…: An Addendum

Even though I wrote a little over a thousand words last week on my experiences with Doctor Strange [required reading for this blog post] there were a couple of additional criticisms I wanted to level against both that specific film and the industry as a whole. While I covered pretty thoroughly how Asians were poorly represented in Marvel Studio’s latest offering, what I didn’t really touch on was why.

When Diversity Means Painting With All the Colour of the Wind

In the months leading up to the release of Doctor Strange the conversation about the Ancient One’s casting began heating up. With mainstream news outlets picking up on the controversy there were many waiting to hear from the creators themselves, which brings us to the episode of the Double Toasted podcast that guest starred screenwriter C. Robert Cargill.

While his explanations regarding the character have since been championed by those defending the casting decision, even after his rescinding all comments made, and in spite of them being refuted by others, in particular by Shaun of the No, Totally! podcast, what I want to focus on are what he says right after that:

 

Now if you don’t want to actually listen to him, which I find perfectly understandable, I’ve also transcribed the relevant quote [emphasis added]:

“But when you start to see this film you’ll see that what we were able to do with Kamar-Taj, we made one of the most multicultural films most people have seen in years. Like this film is [. . .] I’m not certain that there’s a single major race that isn’t represented with a speaking role in this film. It allowed us to bring in, even as small characters to build upon later, a lot of characters from the Doctor Strange universe who come from all over the world. We were able to play with a lot of things and it gave us a lot to work with.”

Continue reading