With some apprehension I went to see Marvel’s Dr. Strange… With a lot of apprehension really. All the whitewashing has really turned me off against it… The tl:dr version of my opinion is simple: Dr. Strange is a visually stunning LSD trip that falls into problematic tropes, appropriating and exotifying Asianness. I had a lot of hope for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I’m starting to think that I held onto this hope in a childish hope that my nerdy past would manifest in my adulthood in a non-problematic way. Marvel comics, like many comics really, always have been problematic when it came to racial issues; perhaps my vain hope was that the MCU would be a chance for Marvel to doing it differently.
As a child I read Dr. Strange, and always loved the mystical aspect of it; it used to be one of my favourite comics really. But one can’t deny that it always has been problematic: the Exotification of Asian culture and mysticism, and the appropriation thereof by the white male character who travels to Asia to learn the mystics arts – mystic arts that are really portraying very much non-Asian while being explicitly learned and located in Asia. Then there is the servant… the Asian man who stereotypically plays second fiddle and cleans up after the white man. With the move to the big screen, and the small screen(s), I had hoped that they would move this to the present days, a time where – I mistakenly believed – such things would be revised; I was horribly wrong really.
But I think I can be forgiven to think the MCU would be better, while perhaps on the big screen Asian characters didn’t really exist (I am still quite upset at even the horrific white washing of the Mandarin: here was a chance to do something interesting, beyond the racist portrayal of the past; but Marvel’s solution was to simply white wash the character, an very lazy way out… oh while still vilifying the Middle East in a flat approach devoid of nuance, just because.) But when Marvel Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. came around, it gave me a few strong Asian characters, and I got some hope. And really, when I saw the portrayal of Elodie Yung as Elektra, a previously white character that had the same problematic background in the comics, I was ecstatic. The MCU really gives an opportunity to essentially “reboot”character’s stories without the messy retconning that otherwise needed to happen. Marvel showed that it didn’t shy away from changing storylines and characters for the MCU from the comics.
But with the arrival of Iron Fist and Dr Strange, we have fallen back… We are moving back to a place where the best Asians, are white people, where the stereotypical journey to the East to raise up the white man (à la The Last Samurai) is taken to new highs. Where a White director seems to think that diversity equals white washing, because the white person is a cis woman. Of course, the comments section of this post might get filled with all sorts of white tears, and white people telling me “to get over it”, but really that only shows even more how entitled Hollywood feels when it comes to Asian cultures, Asian characters, Asian stories… I had hope for the MCU… but really, that is now in the past…