Do you remember the one prominent Asian character they had in Doctor Strange, even though the movie’s whole mythos was Asian? Yep, the fat librarian with no hair. That’s the one. What was his name? Can’t remember, but it had to be Wong or Chan or Lee.
That single character embodied literally every single Asian stereotype: physically unattractive, comedic – not by being witty but by having weird quirks (e.g. never laughs), is demonstrably knowledgeable yet appreciated by no one (i.e. delivering lore-heavy exposition so that the white protagonist can mansplain it by saying something like, “you mean we blow it up”), and having a generic monosyllabic name that is really a surname but for some reason all the white people keep calling him by that. Always a Mr. or Dr. before Strange but never before Wong.
(Can’t pronounce Asian names? If you can look at a word like Mjolnir and be like “I can say that”, you can pronounce Asian names.)
Worse still is the movie director’s explanation on the Ancient One being white: “The Ancient One in the comics is a very old American stereotype of what Eastern characters and people are like, and I felt very strongly that we need to avoid those stereotypes at all costs.”
Nice avoidance bro. But the movie needed to make bank in China and having a Tibetan character would be detrimental to said bank-making; in order to avoid that they just made all the important characters be white. Except for the plot expository/comic relief. He could be Asian.
Why is this OK in 2k17?
One reason – people like it. The Asian stereotype, that is. People like it just as much as they like the white savior stereotype – not strictly in the context of movie-making but in general.
Another example: Ghost in the Shell. Truth is, if it weren’t for Scarlett Johansson taking on the role of an established Asian-descent character, the general population would not give a shit about this movie. When was the last time a friend of yours confessed their love of cyberpunk and neo-futuristic existentialism? Right.
But they cast a white Major and suddenly everyone is totally engaged in modern western society’s favourite pastime: white-knighting against discrimination. “Oh how dare they put an attractive white woman in the role of an attractive Asian woman. I’ll have you know that I, as a straight white man who has never watched anything related to Ghost in the Shell but my nerd friend tells me that it’s cool, am offended by this casting. As a show of protest, I shall go watch Dr. Strange and write it glowing review.”
In both cases, the replacement of Asians by pale walkers was done under different reasons: one to be politically correct, the other to draw attention. And frankly, that’s fair enough; these two things are what you need to be successful in western society: not piss off important people, and be famous.
Then we have the Chinese movie, The Great Wall, directed by the guy who made Heroes.
Strictly speaking this was not a whitewashed movie, the same way that when the Eight-Nation Alliance sacked Beijing in 1900 and pillaged the whole city, they weren’t doing it because they hated Asians. (You can look that up; western Wikis calls it a “military intervention”, much like how America intervened the shit out of Iraq). Rather, it inevitably became into a whitewash due to the movie being set up that way.
If you could suffer the atrocity of sitting through that shitty slog, you would realize that, yes, Matt Damon wasn’t saving the world. All the Chinese dudes had honour and pride and all that stuff and Matt Damon was just kinda there to dick around and be generally useless; he basically went with the flow and brought his skills to battle, that’s it.
In fact, you could replace Matt Damon with any kind of protagonist and still make the same movie. The whole excuse of him being in China – “need me some dat gunpowder bro” – was such a trivial footnote of the plot that it could have been entirely replaced by literally anything else. Could’ve been an Indian monk looking for lost scripture. Could’ve been an African tribesman looking for a cure to a disease through Chinese medicine. Could’ve been an exiled samurai looking for redemption.
But of course it had to be a white guy; people simply love watching white guys.
The Chinese director casted Matt Damon the same reason Ghost in the Shell casted Scarlett Johansson – so people would watch their movie. Having a white lead makes people watch movies.
What is that if not a white savior complex?
They both could’ve had famous Asian actors, but you just know that western audiences wouldn’t watch them. When was the last time you got excited for a movie with a leading Asian actor? It had Jackie Chan in it, didn’t it?
So who is really doing the discrimination here?