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The Race of Khan: Whitewashing in the New Star Trek Film

Ricardo Moltoban as Khan in 1982 is on the left. Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan in 2013 is on the right.

Star Trek: Into Darkness came out this past weekend, and like any good Trekkie, I was eager to see the film.  Although I came away from the theater satisfied, there was one thing that stuck in my craw. Its name was Benedict Cumberbatch. An actor who I love, playing a character whom I love, in a franchise that I love, but I wasn't happy about it. Because, by all accounts, Cumberbatch is a white guy.

In "Space Seed", the original Khan episode from 1967, and subsequently in "Wrath of Khan" in 1982, Khan was played, famously, by actor Ricardo Montalbán, who was Mexican born and of Spanish descent. Not a perfect casting, seeing as Khan is described in the script of "Space Seed" as a Northern Indian Sikh, but considering the studio pressure on Gene Roddenberry to cast only white actors, it was an important statement just to have Khan played by a person of color. Especially since, amongst Star Trek's villains, Khan is famously complex, intelligent and iconic. By whitewashing Khan, Into Darkness director J.J. Abrams is going back to a tradition where complicated, sympathetic villains are white guys, whereas garden variety angry bad-guys are more likely to be people of color. 

This isn't the only disturbing thing about having Cumberbatch cast as Khan. There's some history behind this character that makes him work better as a person of color than as white. As iO9 points out in their discussion of the casting choice, Khan is genetically engineered—he's a product of a eugenic experiment, a superman/übermensch whose genetic superiority makes him feel justified in positioning himself above others. Khan is a genetic composite of all the best parts of humanity as a whole. Gene Roddenberry specifically wanted to make him not the Aryan man that indelibly lingers as our image of the eugenic ideal. By making the "ideal" man Indian, Rodenberry he was pointing out that genetic composite of all humans probably wouldn't wind up white. It was a brave choice, and it's a shame to see it undermined by Abrams today.

I should note that Cumberbatch wasn't actually Abrams' first choice to play the role: originally, he was seeking out Benicio del Toro, but when he pulled out, he went with Cumberbatch. I find this somewhat comforting to know, although the question remains as to why nobody thought to cast an Indian actor in an Indian role. I can't say I didn't enjoy the movie (and Cumberbatch's acting) anyway, but it was definitely disappointing, especially in a franchise famous for its promotion of diversity, equality, and the inherent worth of all human beings.

The situation is further complicated by the secrecy that surrounded Cumberbatch's role in Into Darkness right up until the film's release date. Until last week, Abrams, Cumberbatch, and everyone involved with the film was still swearing up and down that Cumberbatch was playing a new character called "John Harrison," despite a lot of hint-dropping and references to "Space Seed" and "Wrath of Khan" in trailers and other promotional materials. It's great for marketing and publicity to keep the casting decision a secret, but not so great for organizations who fight against practices of whitewashing in media. It's hard to mount a large-scale protest when no one can actually confirm whether the thing you're protesting against is happening or not.

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Comments

77 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Thanks for spoiling it by posting this to facebook

assholes.

If a movie's been out for a

If a movie's been out for a few days, it's fair game to provide spoilers. However a spoiler alert probably should have been posted at the top of the page. In any case, it was a good article and as much as I love Benedict Cumberbatch and the movie itself, the apparent white-washing of the role has given me pause.

Missing the point, Anon. You

Missing the point, Anon. You don't want spoilers? Stay off the internet. I'm sorry a valid argument about white washing in Hollywood "ruined" a film for you. Pobrecito.

I'm glad you shared it, I

I'm glad you shared it, I won't be wasting my money on racist shit like this. I'm a trekkie through and through, but this just doesn't cut it. If Rodenberry fought for people of color to be in the show in those days, there is no fucking excuse now.i *goes to thepiratebay*

"Moltoban"? Really?!?

"Moltoban"? Really?!?

If this is in reference to

If this is in reference to the spelling error... oops! I have no idea how I didn't notice that earlier. It's been fixed now.

I didn't know that!

You kind of ruined the movie for me. I didn't know Cumberbatch was playing Khan!

I'm happy for the spoiler,

I'm happy for the spoiler, now I know not to waste my $$$$ on it. Vote with your wallet. No wonder they kept it quiet. I'm a die hard trekkie, but i'll wait for a download of it now.

They kept it quite because

They kept it quite because it's a huge plot twist. We didn't know that they were going to incorporate TOS into the reboot.

Lol don't worry, the movie

Lol don't worry, the movie ruins itself anyway.

Spoilers

Usually we try as hard as possible to write about films without giving away key plot details. In this case, the discussion over race trumps the need to keep the identity of who Cumberbatch is playing a secret. As mentioned in the post, keeping this casting a secret makes it impossible to raise these important points about race.

Another option would be to hold the article for several weeks, until everyone who could possibly want to see the film in theaters has seen it. But it's important to discuss this aspect of the film when people are watching and discussing it most. As an editor, I felt that waiting until after opening weekend to write about Star Trek gives a fair amount of time for people to see the film while also still writing about the film when it's most relevant.


Bitch Media Online Editor

Problems? Email [email protected]

Writing a generic headline,

Writing a generic headline, not including pictures, and including a spoiler warning would have been too difficult? You made the wrong choice. I was going to call to see how many issue I have left and possibly renew today. I will not be doing that now.

Spoilers

Sometimes you can't win. Fact is a lot of people read articles about a film before they see it. Even if you just saw the title Whitewashing in Star Trek, you'd have given something away.

Khan being in the movie is no more a spoiler than saying the Lone Ranger and Tonto is an origin story and Butch Cavandish is the bad guy.

You already know this isn't a remake of Wrath of Khan so the point that Cumberbatch plays Khan doesn't really spoil anything storywise. Besides, if they had cast an Del Toro, they'd have been blasting that info out all over the place.

You know they would have.

I do understand the

I do understand the association of white man = genetic perfection and was having this very discussion last night. It is an unnerving association but I'm glad that a white man wasn't their first choice.

I'd just like to point out that blame does not solely lie with Abrams. Casting was done by April Webster and Alyssa Weisberg and the production team would have had a part to play in the casting too.

Do people get tired of playing the race card?

I read online that they tried to cast a few different actors for the role of Kahn, Benicio del Toro being one of them but either schedules did not work out or they wanted more money. Then J.J. Abrams watched an episode of Sherlock and was captured by Cumberbatch's performance and wanted him for the role. I am a huge Star Trek fan, and I'm not just talking about the reboot and parallel universe, but about the classics that I used to sit and watch with my dad when I was a kid.

All these characters you have working together as a crew are different; you have earthlings, vulcan, in one series you have Worf, a Klingon. So if there is anything a Trekkie should take away from the Star Trek franchise it's that it is not about your race, color, or background--it's about your performance.

But by all means, sit out on seeing an amazing movie with a fantastic story and gripping performances, because you can't but help be narrow-minded, and would rather be offended.

It's always 'the race card' when you're a racist.

Did you completely miss the part about Gene Roddenberry's influential and groundbreaking casting decision? Or the overwhelmingly dominant white presence in Hollywood at the expense of many a talented and constantly overlooked actor of color? Or any sort of factoid and descriptive reason as to why this casting isn't merely an objective decision based on 'performance'?

Because, y'know, I highly doubt that over 70% of leading roles going to white actors is because of performance. That'd suggest that white people are just better most of the time. Wait. Isn't racial superiority one of the main conflicts in Wrath of Khan?

You need to try harder, because telling people they're just easily offended whilst blatantly ignoring history and social context is a pretty poor cover for your callous disregard.

Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

LMAO, miss the point much?

LMAO, miss the point much? (yes, yes you did)
"because you can't but help be narrow-minded, and would rather be offended."
This is not even worth replying to.

They didn't , but you did.

The fact that you look at a valid argument and perceive it as someone being offended, says that you obviously don't get the point. In Hollywood it's often the case that White does become the default when it comes to casting. In this case though, the original concept of the character was to play against that ideology.

Seems like Abram's casting director just wasn't wanting to put in any effort once del Toro became unavailable.

Khan

Somehow the reviewer seems to think that positive genes like intelligence are cross racial, not true.Colorful guppies let to random breed will revert to type, Khan is supposed to be a sikh which is a branch of the White race

A tough call

It's hard to address this topic and not get caught up in a web. But, here's my shot.

I think this issue of race and casting could have an entire blog (not to be confused with a blog post) devoted to it. This is because there are so many factors and perspectives that pertain to it. In this new film, yes - Khan is played by a white guy. For accuracy's sake as far as the narrative, it probably would have made more sense to hire an Indian actor, just because Khan is meant to be a Sikh prince.

What would have happened if they had? Would there not be bloggers or critics somewhere out there that would have complained that such casting demonizes Indians, or Sikh culture? That would be one perspective, and certainly a very arguable one in a world where "the other" is often demonized for political purposes. I don't know. That's pure conjecture, I guess.

But, here's what isn't conjecture. The theme around the character of Khan should be understood as this: what does perfection actually mean? And with that established, what does it mean when you have invulnerability and incredible mental capacity, but you don't have compassion and humility? The character of Khan is meant to get the viewer to think about how we should approach the concept of power, ability, and leadership. It is to get us to understand how to frame ideas of superiority and perfection as they are separated by a vast gulf of meaning.

Without compassion and vision beyond one's own ambitions, and a willingness to contribute to the well-being of others, superiority is entirely meaningless. That is the whole point of the character. These concepts are vital to understand very real world situations, not the least of which is who do we vote for? What organizations do we support? How do our ideas of power affect those around us, for good or ill?

For me, reducing this to a conversation about race greatly reduces this wider conversation. It's just a distraction. It misses the point entirely.

Thanks for the post.

Whoa, look at all these dog whistles. Where do I start?

"What would have happened if they had? Would there not be bloggers or critics somewhere out there that would have complained that such casting demonizes Indians, or Sikh culture? That would be one perspective, and certainly a very arguable one in a world where "the other" is often demonized for political purposes. I don't know. That's pure conjecture, I guess."

A classic. "Why worry about it? Those damned colored folk would have complained anyway so I guess nothing should be done. This is an incredibly fallacious manner of thinking and it gives me all I need to know when it comes to your mindset.

"But, here's what isn't conjecture. The theme around the character of Khan should be understood as this: what does perfection actually mean? And with that established, what does it mean when you have invulnerability and incredible mental capacity, but you don't have compassion and humility? The character of Khan is meant to get the viewer to think about how we should approach the concept of power, ability, and leadership. It is to get us to understand how to frame ideas of superiority and perfection as they are separated by a vast gulf of meaning. "

In short, remove all of the obvious context from the situation and say Whitewashing is perfectly okay because of the character. Another classic.

"For me, reducing this to a conversation about race greatly reduces this wider conversation. It's just a distraction. It misses the point entirely."

And here's where you reveal yourself to be White as the driven snow. A conversation about what matters to people of color is a "reduction" and a "distraction" to you.

If you don't care, remove yourself from the conversation. Whitewashing IS about race. They took a man of color and made him White. This is a problem. One you will clearly never understand.

Also

For me

It's not about you. These things don't matter to you because they do not effect you. This shit is a "distraction" to you because you don't have to care about it. Everything already caters to you. Benedict being cast as Khan was done to cater to you. All of this catering to the White male demographic comes at our expense. That'll never occur to you without assistance, though.

Inb4 you do that classic White-Person-On-The-Internet thing and claim you're a person of color and therefor are automatically correct and infallible.

Not saying race racism isn't important

I'm not saying race isn't important. I'm not saying "why worry about it?" Nothing in any of my statements above carries that meaning. You are projecting on to my comments. To say I don't have to care about this is incredibly simplistic and presumes an awful lot. about my background, my relationships, and my life experiences. Racial stereotyping and hatred hurts everyone; some more directly than others, it's true. But to say that I and other like me aren't affected by racial tensions unjustices, and dehumanization is a preposterous statement.

In your response, you have reduced me to being a "white person on the Internet" and "white as the driven snow". This is a disappointing response, and one that makes me think we will never solve the problem of open and respectful discussions as long as this kind of narrow-mindedness and outright disrespect endures. I am more than my genes. And so are you. Before you admonish others, look to yourself. At very least, figure out that personal attacks on the Internet are tacky.

Goodness, you sound white.

Yes, we're 'reducing' the conversation to race.

Never mind the people who are used to, every single day of their damned lives, being reduced to their race and are deciding to speak up about it in a time where society is changing faster than it ever has.

Nah. YOU don't care, so we shouldn't. Good to know.

Right - let me go over this again.

Your response doesn’t track with anything I’ve said.

My comments are not about people who deal with being discriminated against in their everyday lives. They are about the character of Khan. They are about the themes and issues which that character respresents; power, ideas of perfection, ability, but without empathy, compassion, or thoughts outside of one's own ambitions. I’m sure you would agree that these are very HUMAN struggles.

The casting of the actor of that character does not diminish those themes, nor would it if the actor was of Sikh origin, or Indo-Canadian, or Asian-American, or First Nations, or any other cultural or racial group. That’s why a Mexican actor could play him so well in 1967, and again in 1982. Because it didn’t matter that he was Mexican. The only things that would diminish the impact of the character and the themes that character provokes would be bad writing and bad acting. That in turn is a separate discussion.

This is what I meant be reducing the conversation to race – not that race isn’t an important issue, or that the suffering of generations of people is trivial.

Your first point

I'm just going to reply to your first point: What would have happened if they had? Would there not be bloggers or critics somewhere out there that would have complained that such casting demonizes Indians, or Sikh culture? That would be one perspective, and certainly a very arguable one in a world where "the other" is often demonized for political purposes. I don't know. That's pure conjecture, I guess.

If history is anything to go off by (big hint - it is), it shows that underrepresented races and the country that they represent are almost unanimously very grateful and inspired when their "people" plays any big role in a hollywood movie. For example, even though it was a very small role, Amitabh Bachchan plays the role of a Jewish gangster in the Great Gatsby. According to you, there could have very well been a shit storm of complaints for that role, but there is nothing but great national pride in the fact that an Indian is playing a part, however small, in Hollywood. In fact, all the Great Gatsby movie posters in India has him on it; quite laughable in our perspective because he really does play quite a small role in the story and movie.

Another example is in GI Joe. I'm not a huge GI Joe fan but I know that one of the main villains was a Korean ninja badass. You certainly didn't hear complaints from Korea about anyone "demonizing" their culture. In fact they were thrilled and had him on the front of every GI Joe movie poster in Korea as well. The excuse of not using the right "color" for a role in the fear of the posssibility that their people won't like it is complete bullshit. Indians would have rejoiced to see another Indian getting the long overdue fame that they have deserved for a long time.

Fantastic response. You

Fantastic response. You should be a writer.

If you're gonna complain that

If you're gonna complain that the movie is whitewashed because Khan was not played by an Indian actor, then complain that in the original episode and the original movie he was not played by an Indian actor. Plus, Ricardo Montalban is white.
Spanish people are white Europeans. he was just born in Mexico, it does not make him a person of color.

Are you forgetting that Khan was a villain? If Khan was played by an Indian man, then you would be writing an article about how racist the new Trek movie is by casting a brown person as the villain, and thus promoting the stereotype that brown people are evil and bent on destruction and revenge.

The article addresses that

The article addresses that the original casting of Khan was not perfect - the new movie could have been a chance to improve the efforts to cast people of color, not abandon them.

Montalban identified as an ethnic minority and talked about experiencing discrimination in Hollywood We don't get to dismiss his experience on some kind of technicality. See the note at the end of this great post.

Villains can be well-rounded, interesting characters - again, the article addresses his origins as a genetic composite of all of the best of humanity, and why casting a man of color in that role is more realistic and confrontational to white supremacy than casting a white man. Your hypothetical about the article that Bitch "would be writing" is a strawman. Star Trek has always been notable for casting people of color in a variety of roles. If Khan was the only person of color in the Star Trek universe, sure, that could be very problematic. But thankfully - and obviously - he wouldn't be.

The points you bring up have been addressed in many places, many times. If this issue is not that important to you, it would be best to sit out of this conversation. Getting defensive when people try to address racism is never going to make you look good or help anybody else.

I do agree that a genetically

I do agree that a genetically perfect person would not be "white". However, a Bitch blogger *did* write an article about how Star Trek features non-human aliens with a dark-looking complexion as the villains, or as ruthless groups, etc, for example, the Klingon. It is very true that if Khan was portrayed by an Indian actor, as the villain, the article would have talked about that, since there have been numerous articles about it already in existence,

Just because Khan was supposed to be an Indian character doesn't mean that in subsequent portrayals that he should be from then on. The original casting set the precedence that Khan was going to be different than he originally looked in the script for Space Seed.

Listen, I think it's important to call out racism when it matters and when it's obvious, but this is stretching it. And I understand that Montalban absolutely faced discrimination in Hollywood for being darker-skinned, despite being European, and I have experienced the same thing as well, despite being a mixed Euro.

That all being said, I think this particular conversation about this character seems almost pointless because of how complicated the situation is. Roddenberrry intended Khan to be a Sikh, yet Montalban was cast, and in the new movie Cumberbatch was cast, so the character changed from the very start, plus adding to the fact that it's seen as problematic to cast people of color as villains.

Just because Khan was

Just because Khan was supposed to be an Indian character doesn't mean that in subsequent portrayals that he should be from then on. The original casting set the precedence that Khan was going to be different than he originally looked in the script for Space Seed.

If he's not Indian, then why is he still Khan Noonien Singh? Singh, one of the most common names of south Asia. Come on.

If the character has Khan's backstory, then he's Indian. If the character doesn't have Khan's backstory, then he isn't Khan. It would've been easy for the writers to use Old Spock to do a callback, remembering Khan and The Eugenics Wars from his timeline to suggest to New Spock that this was another genetically engineered superhuman of the same sort. Instead they poached the name, because it's so very recognizable, and left the reasons the man had the name behind as if what was built over both Space Seed and Wrath of Khan was just lagniappe.

But that backstory matters, and their simultaneous efforts to rely on it as far as name recognition and a pivotal plot moment and reject the philosophy of it led to both insensitivity to Trek's continual purpose, from TOS through all the series, and a grave perpetuation of ugly Hollywood racial casting issues. And both of those problems are well worthy of criticism.

Stop that.

No, Ricardo Montalban was not white, and Spanish people are not 'white Europeans' (Seriously, bit of history, there was a lot of arabian influence in Spain for a long, long time. Also, Castillians would take an offense to that.). Even if they were, people born in México aren't 'spanish born in México', they're Mexicans. To be Mexican has nothing to do with skin color and everything to do with cultural identity. Third, more importantly, Ricardo Montalban NEVER identified himself as a white actor, and fought all his life for the rights of Latino Actors so Hollywood would stop casting them as 'exotic PoC' and started casting them in more complex roles.

Seriously, if you want to claim that whitewashing is ok because Ricardo Montalban wasn't Indian, don't add insult to injury by claiming he had the exact same privileges as a white actor in Hollywood or erase his cultural identity by calling him 'white'.

If I'm a, let's say, Czech

If I'm a, let's say, Czech person born in Mexico, that would not make me Mexican. Nation of birth does not equal that being your cultural heritage. His parents were from Spain, and moved to Mexico. That does not make Montalban Mexican.

My original point was that the casting of Khan was problematic from the start, and the character evolved a LOT over time. He was originally supposed to be Nordic, but then was changed to Sikh, then Montalban was cast, once again changing the character. So why are people so up in arms that Khan was not portrayed by an Indian actor when the character was never portrayed by one? I don't see why this is such a huge deal, because the character's ethnic identity was always changing.

I have no idea how Czech

I have no idea how Czech people regard their nationality, but if you're born to Czech parents in Mexico, and are raised here, you are Mexican. If Czech people regard their nationality and their culture identity as something from birth, then you're Czech-Mexican. But you're still Mexican.

YES, if your parents are from Spain, move here, and you're born here, you're Mexican. That's how our culture works. That's how our culture heritage has worked since the times of Hernan Cortes. That's the whole reason why we fought our independence war, because people BORN here, are automatically Mexicans. People raised here, regarldess of where they were born, are Mexicans. By your logic, the father of the country, Miguel Hidalgo, wasn't Mexican and trust me, you say that here? And you'll get exiled. Ricardo Montalban was born and raised Mexican. He identified as Mexican. He fought a lot to keep Hollywood from casting any non american actor with slightly darker skin as just 'exotic' side characters.

I have no beef with the whole BC as Khan thing. I am past caring, because Khan is a fictional character with a lot of problematic things in how he was written and cast, but still, fictional. Mr. Ricardo Montalban was a real person, and erasing his identity, his culture and his life long battle against hollywood casting discrimination is something I can't stand.

(And I'm pretty sure that had he been alive now, he would've fought tooth and nail to get an Indian actor to play Khan)

And there is also an ethnic

And there is also an ethnic element as well. Americans, for example, are not ethnically American. We are by who are families are. Yes, we are American by citizenship, but if I was born to American parents who were living in Mexico at the time, I would not identify myself as Mexican, I would identify myself as who my parents are. To me, being born somewhere does not make that my cultural or ethnic identity. My only point was, that just because someone is born somewhere, does not automatically make them a member of that *ethnic* group. Nationality-wise, sure. Just as if I were born to Americans living in Saudi Arabia, it would not make me Arabic. But if someone identified that way, that's their prerogative. And their right.

And besides, this entire conversation about the semantics of this is entirely off-topic and irrelevant. If that's how he identifies, that's fine. But I don't see how this conversation would get any more helpful to continue.

The issue was white-washing of the character (who was white to begin with), and I think it's a pointless conversation simply because of how much the character has changed over the years. From being Nordic, to Sikh, then played by Montalban, then played by an Englishman. There really isn't any "correct" person to portray the character anymore.

Not EVERY SPANISH PERSON is

Not EVERY SPANISH PERSON is dark aired, this is just a stereotype. Also, even if it was like that, if every Spanish person was dark aired with brown eyes wouldn´t made them less white than say, a German person. Also, I´m more than sure that Castilians would take an offense if you call them non-white.

Indeed, The Spanish do not

Indeed, The Spanish do not call themselves colored, I can attest to that, neither are they latino. They are hispanic. But that being said, the word colored is not used in Europe at all. Neither is white. This is mainly an American tradition, to make a black and white differentiation between colored and white.

Also it seems that the point above about them being a mix of races is a moot one, since the original Khan was intended to be Indian, by name and appearance. wouldn't he be a mix of everything as suggested above? Eventually he is played by a mexican with hispanic roots. Seems to me all that matters is that it is played by a great actor. And by the fact it was going to be played by Del Toro before, shows us there was no ill intend, they just chose a good actor. Also how do we know someone whom has its genetics tampered with, would turn out? In your argument it is convenient to predict they would always be colored. But it could very well be a random thing.

If you are going to accuse a movie of whitewashing, pick an easy target, there are so many after all. This one seems a waste of time and quite a stretch..

Stop that.

No, Ricardo Montalban was not white, and Spanish people are not 'white Europeans' (Seriously, bit of history, there was a lot of arabian influence in Spain for a long, long time. Also, Castillians would take an offense to that.). Even if they were, people born in México aren't 'spanish born in México', they're Mexicans. To be Mexican has nothing to do with skin color and everything to do with cultural identity. Third, more importantly, Ricardo Montalban NEVER identified himself as a white actor, and fought all his life for the rights of Latino Actors so Hollywood would stop casting them as 'exotic PoC' and started casting them in more complex roles.

Seriously, if you want to claim that whitewashing is ok because Ricardo Montalban wasn't Indian, don't add insult to injury by claiming he had the exact same privileges as a white actor in Hollywood or erase his cultural identity by calling him 'white'.

Yes they would take an offense

Beleive me, as an Nothern Basque person with a Spanish Citizenship, Castilians would TAKE AN OFFENSE if you call them non-white. And not every Spanish person is dark with brown eyes, is just an stereotype.

Wow, you're ignorant as hell.

Wow, you're ignorant as hell. First of all the Arabs have shit to do with Spainish dna, you mean Berbers, and they had very little impact. Actually most of Europe had non-European impact on them even if little, so by your logic all Europeans aren't white. Spanish people ARE white in every respect of the word, very much so and no less whiter than Brits or Germans. This is coming from a Eastern European living in Spain. To call Spanish people people of colour is a joke, by the way I have family in Brazil are they now poc, even though both of their parents are from my country? Seriously, there race changed once their families immigrated? You sound very uneducated.

Khan was always a mess. He's

Khan was always a mess. He's supposed be a mix of all sorts of materials and was made in a lab in India, but he's guessed as Indian in Space Speed (it's never confirmed canonically). Then when we get to the Wrath of Khan, he looks completely different (no brown makeup or Indian clothing) and his ethnicity is dropped entirely, since an Indian man is pretty unlikely to have an obviously Spanish accent.

More people know the white-appearing RM from TWOK. His name is even nonsense: as a first name, Khan is Turkish. Noonien is Asian, Chinese most likely, and Singh is Indian, but he would have been randomly named by scientists, given his backstory. It's hard to call it whitewashing when the character is so ambiguous when you look at both Space Speed and TWOK.

As a side note, the article gives Rodenberry too much credit. Khan was a white Nordic dude first. The casting director went with Montalban because of his audition, and that's when they changed him, because RM obviously wasn't Nordic. Plus, all the other superpeople in TWOK are white anyway.

I don't know what to think about the actor, as he was contracted believing he was an original character.

They changed it to Khan mid-stream, when costly production had already taken place. This was a nasty move on their part towards him. (the producers admitted to this here: http://movies.yahoo.com/blogs/the-reel-breakdown/check-star-trek-writers... )

There are a plethora of

There are a plethora of excellent actors in India who could have done the part and a good portion of them are named Khan.

Yeah, they're not going to

Yeah, they're not going to cast an unknown actor in a major Hollywood movie, in such an iconic series, for such an important and iconic role.

In a movie where the whole

In a movie where the whole main cast were unknowns going into the first film? And where the somewhat better known actor playing the villain was so well disguised by costuming as to be unrecognizable?

Okay, presuming that's so, then why not the Indian actor who became famous working alongside the actor who plays Spock (Sendhil Ramamurthy) or the one who became famous working with this director (Naveen Andrews)?

And of course, we're talking about famous to 330 million Americans which Cumberbatch isn't, yet, as the number of Americans who've seen six episodes of "Sherlock", on PBS, is minuscule - especially compared to the number who tortured themselves watching the full run of "Lost" or "Heroes." And the fun thing about casting Indian actors is that even if they're fully unknown in the US or Europe, they're famous in a country of more than a billion people. They come with a solid fanbase. Just not a white fanbase, so I guess it doesn't count as much, maybe?

Unknowns?

I'm only going to address that one sentence, ALMOST the entire main cast were known before this movie especially Zachary Quinto (Sylar in Heroes), Simon Pegg (Shaun in Shaun of the Dead), John Cho (Harold in Harold and Kumar movies), Zoe Saldana (Neytiri in Avatar), Karl Urban (Eomer in LOTR), Anton Yelchin (Kyle Reese in Terminator: Salvation and the remake of Fright Night). Granted I haven't seem much of Chris Pine's work he still has a fairly decent amount of movies he's been in. But the point remaining each of these actors/actresses were well known and some more than Benedict Cumberbatch.

white person whining about minorities

ultra stupid white guilt politically correct writer...

when a person of color invents something like star trek they can cast whoever the fuck they want, you dont see people in other countries complaining that a race isn't correct... only PC people like you

Casting Cumberbatch was the

Casting Cumberbatch was the one thing that made me think the movie WOULDN'T be about Khan, because of his race - and the writers must have been aware of the whitewashing issue, because I don't think anyone in the movie ever refers to Cumber!Khan by his full name (I might be wrong).

That said, I still love the movie. So. Much. I especially love that unlike in the first one (when she turned into background!girlfriend after the reveal of her and Spock's relationship) this time Uhura gets some real stuff to do, while STILL being in a stable, grown-up relationship (which is something else you hardly ever see). They even fixed that horrible scene in one of the original movies (ST VI?) where Uhura frantically tries to piece together some Klingon by using paper(!) dictionaries.

He was referred once by his

He was referred once by his full name in the movie. I personally think they should have gotten an ethnic actor for the role. Khan's backstory and Indian connection were done very well in the two novels about him. The movie itself was good, better than I expected (and better than 09) but not nearly as good or meaningful as TWOK. And the plotholes were big enough to fly the Vengeance through.

Yup, that was Star Trek VI,

Yup, that was Star Trek VI, The Undiscovered Country. Watching that movie, then watching how badass Uhura is even more in this incantation of Star Trek, makes me happy that she's such a smart badass. Uhura today doesn't need a dictionary to speak Klingon! PLUS, Uhura in Star Trek VI was speaking jibberish.

Here is my theory, It was not

Here is my theory, It was not racism. I think having an Indian guy or at least someone someone that is brown would have made it a little obvious that it was Khan. They wanted to conceal that Khan was going to be in this film.

Agree with article AND missed geek point!

First - quit whining about spoilers. Everyone should know by now not to go anywhere near the internet, radio, tv, or friends if they don't want a movie they haven't seen spoiled.

Second - y'all can argue back and forth about was it white washing or wasn't it (it was), and would it have been worse if the bad guy had been Indian (maybe, but no one bitched much about Montalban being the bad guy in TWOK), but even if neither of those things are true - as a Trek fan you can only put up with so much BS. I gave the first re-boot a pass because, ya know, "alternate timeline", and I thought they did a good job with the casting and characters. But the timeline is only supposed to have altered SINCE the attack on the Kelvin, a good 150-250 years AFTER Khan and his cohorts went into hibernation. Since that had already happened (in the Trek universe), there is no way that would've changed, so the Khan fratboy Kirk and crew run into would be the same one that Shatboy Kirk and crew ran into originally. Yes, spending some time in London after being revived MIGHT make you pick up the accent, and God knows they have very little sun, but no one would end up THAT white (and pasty, btw). Also (even more geekery) Khan in the original series episode is not as psychotic as he is in TWOK. In Space Seed he is arrogant and ruthless, but also charismatic, intelligent, and even nobel. He's violent and psychotic in TWOK as a result of having spent 15 years surviving on a planet that had a huge natural disaster 6 months after he was put there, losing his wife, and generally having 15 years to blame Kirk. But that hasn't happened in the JJ Abrams "altverse". So, just a bad choice all the way around.

(Yes, I know that wasn't the point of this article, I'm simply pointing out that there are plenty of OTHER reasons for crying "FOUL" on this casting. And for the record, I am a HUGE Sherlock fan.)

Khan's Psychosis

I dunno. I'm seeing that it's possible he could be as psychotic as he was in tWoK. Instead of losing his wife to the natural disaster on the planet he found to call home, his wife, as well as the rest of his people, are held hostage by Admiral Marcus. His psychosis was merely reached by alternate means.

An Alternate Reading

It really does suck that a person of color wasn't cast as Khan. Also this post is going to have more spoilers so please if you're going to be annoyed stop reading right now. I feel slightly ashamed to admit that my first reaction to the movie was that for a change people of color were featured really heavily in the film. I felt this overwhelming joy that the family from London at the start of the movie were all people of color, the officer who takes over for Chekov on the bridge is an incredibly hot thick, black woman with a shaved head. So refreshing right?! Every large background shot includes people of color and I think some credit has to be given for not whitewashing the entire world. Is the casting of Cumberbatch perfect? No, but filling the world with non white people is something that happens in so few movies I feel it does need to be pointed out.

I hadn't heard about Kahn

I hadn't heard about Kahn being in the film at all. But I found my surprise pretty distracting. Instead of being believable as Khan, it felt like one of the British accented Empire generals from Star Wars went off his meds and wandered into Star Trek. Call me clueless, call me racist against the British, call me what you want but that's what I was thinking the entire time.

Reading here what was actually trying to be achieved with this part in the original series, I'm appalled.

The Race Of Khan

Why would Ricardo Montalban be identified as non-white if he was born in Mexico but his family is originally form Spain, genetically he is of European descent, perhaps he looks more like a southern European, but technically he would be considered white. It truly takes a Latino raised in the United States to begin to see the theme and moral of every story from a racial and skin color point of view. It's a point of view we learn well in the United States because of the country's false mythical concepts of race. Latinos raised in the United States cease seeing the world as humans and instead see the globe split up in camps of Black White and Brown. And I am Latina! A Latino raised in Latin America would not have made the race of the actors their paramount concern. In Latin America as in Spain there are many Latinos and Spaniards whose family line includes people who resemble both Monatalban and Cumbarbatch. Aside from the fact that race shouldn't matter in a work of art, except for meeting the guidelines of US Equal Employment Opportunity, it is the content of character and talent which is most important in interpreting a character in acting.

The fact that the cast is all of light skin doesn't spoil the film for me at all! The author forgets that in Latin American films and TV only Hispanics appear, and no one has made a comments about their racial types. Unless the same bias made with Montalban in this article is made with erroneously categorizing the race of Latin Americans. The bias is that once you have a Latin American surname you are not white, even though your parents were originally from Spain. And perhaps if you are from Spain to a northern European you are not white either. So that this criticism is based on false mythical and political racist concepts of race! Those who have been the victims of racism carry it around and it does them much wrong, And in terms of the analysis of what would be the physical appearance of an interracial human, the assumption that it will look more like Montalban is wrong. As a Latin American of also Spanish heritage we already have that mixture for many generations and the result off springs that look like Montalban and like Cumberbatch!

What Does an Indian Look Like?

First of all, as someone of Indian decent, I am appalled at how many people want to focus on the fact that Mr. Cumberbatch is white and therefore not the "right" skin tone to play someone whose last name is Khan. Does anyone actually do their homework or bother to look at what real people from that background look like? Or do people just assume because Kal Penn is of Indian decent and is darker than "white" then all Indian people are too? Sir Ben Kingsley is of Indian decent and yet he "passes" for white in films all the time. And most people, taking a glance at him and hearing his British accent would say he was "white" without realizing that his birth name is Krishna Pandit Bhanji. And he considers himself a British Actor because he was born in Britain. Ricardo Montalban was Latin/Hispanic and wasn't even remotely Indian but that OK to have the Hispanic play an Indian because his skin was not "white." As for villains being sympathetic mainly when they are white, that is utter nonsense. Samuel L. Jackson in "Unbreakable" is the villain character and he's very sympathetic and you feel for him. Montalban was a character you actually liked as Khan and sympathized with him and what he must have gone through and he was by no means a "white" character. Denzel Washington has played characters that are depraved and wholly evil and you still like them. So the point that sympathetic villains are white is a moot point. As far as the performance of Mr. Cumberbatch, he nailed it. Khan is a suave, charismatic, sexy, intelligent and emotional villain who doesn't see himself as a villain, but a victim. No one plans on being the "bad guy" even in films-they all think they are doing the right thing. Sure, some like Voldemort in the HP Universe if pure evil. But when you want someone who can give a sensual likable Khan that does justice to Montalban, Cumberbatch brought it. And as for someone who is the same shade of skin tone as Mr. Cumberbatch and who IS of Indian descent, I say I have no issues with him being Khan.

He's part

He's part Indian(Ben Kingsley) so him passing for white is because his mother was white, therefore, he took after her more obviously by skin color. He's indian, but not a full blooded one. If you did your research, you'd know that.

WHAT THE HELL???

Wait a minute-- Ricardo Montalban played Khan on the TV series???
WTF??? Where are the spoiler labels, you asshole??? Some of us aren't fully caught up on all the episodes yet! Way to ruin it!
And then on top of that, you're complaining that Khan in this movie is a white dude, yet you mention so casually that on the TV show, Khan wasn't even supposed to be played by a super machismo Latino man with a fetish for rich Corinthian leather!!
As an American who is 1/27 Sick Indian, I am affronted, offended, and rear-ended that my heritage was not honored and more people have not written whiny blog posts about it!

RACE OF ACTOR: KHAN IN NEW STAR TREK MOVIE

To begin, America is the bastion of racism against Black people, next to the socio-politicalisms of South Africa and the socio-religious caste system of India. Always has been. America is a "work in progress" as far as race relations, but the traditional power structure is always sympathetic - if not out right - deferring to the "racist sensibilities" of its' White masses, especially when such have a direct impact on profit-driven venues such as TV shows and movies.

With that stated, Gene Roddenberry was a extraordinary, visionary, creative man, who created Star Trek as a universe of "What If?" humans were free or tolerant of ALL races in the race conscious era of 1960s America. He PURPOSELY cast an African-American female, Asian male, and a Latino male (in the role of Khan) to not only buck the race conscious, and racist, thinking of the heads of studio, but to set up story-lines which would make Star Trek a forerunner to TV and theatrical productions to come, Star Trek and non-Star Trek related.

Casting Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan in the movie, Star Trek: Into Darkness, is not an affront to the vision of Gene Roddenberry (although some more race sensitive individual may prefer to differ, or even show anger, sadness or outrage at this), but it IS a deviation that does disregard the purpose Mr. Roddenberry placed in HIS Star Trek. Modern India is home to a wide range of INDIGENOUS human complexions; from pale, tan, beige to browns and burgandy-blue browns (black.) Thus, Cumberbatch's casting is NOT out the Indian "norm"; it just does not fall into the limited parameters of non-Indians what an "East Indian" should look like.

I am of the opinion that a swarthier-complexioned actor should have been cast. But, again, that is MY opinion. I validate that opinion by the premise of EXPECTATION, as most - if not all - traditional fans of Star Trek have come to expect of the franchise. In this regard, J.J. Abrams failed miserably to respect the traditional expectations of Trekkies, as most of us will agree.

This also strikes to the heart why some of us show disbelief, and even outrage, that "Black" Vulcans were introduced into the Star Trek mythos, in the character of Tuvok of ST:Voyager. It makes a question of whether we are so preoccupied with the concept of what race constitutes that we do not wish to entertain biological facts that environmental adaptations could have occurred on Vulcan and created a variety of characteristic among the Vulcanians (rarely used term, but used here for reference and deference) just as human beings display outward signs of environmental adaptions? I say: Get over IT! There is widespread opinions among Trekkies as to what Star Trek means and should be, but there are those of us who are "Roddenberrian" Trekkies, who do not seek to cluster our opinion with personal feelings but ONLY focus on what Roddenberry's vision was, and is, from a quasi-sacred viewpoint: We value Star Trek for its premises, not by own own prejudices and cultural limitations.

As a Roddenberrian Trekkie, I say that Star Trek is still broadening its borders and causing us all to examine our own beliefs on race, religion, culture...to this day, and for that I am quite sure that overall Gene Roddenberry would be pleased.

p.s. Mr. Abram? Should you cast yet another Star Trek venture, it is now hoped that YOU respect Mr. Roddenberry's vision in its totality and cast so appropriately. Thank you.

The race of the character

The race of the character does not matter. The original complexity and wrath of the character wad clearly portrayed. I could honestly not think of another actor that could have been such a psychopath and yet sympathetic and passionate other than Benedict Cumberbatch.

BUT HOW DID HE CHANGE TO

BUT HOW DID HE CHANGE TO BEING WHITE? This is the same universe in which IT HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED that he looks like Ricardo Montalban already so how could he CHANGE to begin with?

brownwash lol

Firstly in the original Star Trek, Khan character although not Indian, was believable just by Ricardos performance. Yes he was browned up but still what do you expect in Racist America Hollywood. It was bad enough having Uhura and Sulu on the same cast.

Maybe Gene read the book Nostradamus prophecies and it is said a man from the middle east would dictate and become the next Hitler and go for world domination by any means necessary. Maybe that gave him the idea.

Now going on the film in question. How many bloody Khans do I know that are white????
NONE
Why could they not get a person of colour, its not hard, there are many good actors. Abramms is a fantastic film maker but ffs, stick to the frigging script instead changing stuff cos

1) adds confusion
2) people will always compare to the original and looking at this film its already plundering despite millions and millions spent
3) Hanna has a very valid point, why is it when doing super villains with brains he always has to be a crazy white boy. If ya gonna change the game please come correct on both sides.
4) Hanna you definitely got the rednecks out, maybe if they give Idris Elba the next James Bond role you will have everyone complaining about that.

Its amazing how people love to sweep aside the bullshit historic white wash that has been in Hollywood since that disgusting film "Birth of a Nation"
And I thought Star Trek was about the United Federation of Planets, where there was no place for racism anymore. Seems to me 40 years on we still got it right here from so called brainless fans

Montelban >> Hipster Khan

Montelban >> Hipster Khan

Nice point

I have to agree with you, Gene Roddenberry did put a lot of thinking into his scripts. It is a shame that JJ Abrams did not look deeper into this matter.

I am glad that he has made Star Trek popular again, but I really hope that a new more capable director/scriptwriter get to take the helm of the new series.

Personally I found it a bit un-tasteful that he stuck with his original idea of remaking "Wrath of Khan." It was too much of a safe bet, and moral story behind it really does not fit with our society right now. Considering that star trek is all about pushing the envelope of social issues and how they effect people.

I would have been much more happy with an original story. Considering they killed off most of the commanding officers in less than ten minutes, I do not think there will be anyone alive in the new series to tell Captain Kirk "no."

It's funny how none of you

It's funny how none of you complain about Samuel L. Jackson bieng cast as Nick Fury in the Avengers.

But Nick Fury was redesigned

But Nick Fury was redesigned to be Samuel L Jackson before he was cast in the MCU!

I'm glad I'm not the only one

I'm glad I'm not the only one with this issue.

I was initially really looking forward to this film but when I read about the possibility of Cumberbatch being Khan, I just couldn't watch this at all. It wasn't the only reason - all the explosions and the Spock/Uhura romance put me off but having a White British man playing an augment of clear asian ethnicity just was a bridge too far.

I can't help but think of better casting alternatives - how about Naveen Andrews from Lost for example?

You're a racist

The fact that you're so focused on a white guy playing a character that looked white to begin with is proof of how stupid this "racism" thing is or "white washing''

Should movies now do the same rehash over and over again? Were you offended by the black Nick Fury? How EVERYONE in the honeymooners movie was changed to black? All this racial sensitivity is beyond stupid who gives a fudge if spiderman is black/white/hispanic than the next movie he's purple? It's just people and that's where you racists and race sensitive people screw up and you BOTH are to blame for the deterioration of society and why people are more isolated and censored than ever.

The guy's name was Khan

The guy's name was Khan Noonien Singh! "Singh" is a very common Sikh name and makes sense for the character because his original backstory stated was that he was, in fact, an Indian Sikh. If they were going to change his ethnicity, wouldn't it make more sense to change his name as well? To like maybe Bill or Frank? Plus, isn't this movie technically supposed to be in the same universe as the original show? That's why Spock Prime is in it, right? So how did the appearance of Nero's ship, which disrupted the timeline in the first movie, change Khan's ethnicity? Spock said that anything that happened from that point on (the appearance of Nero's ship) would be subject to change - but wasn't Khan floating around in space long before that? Did Nero's ship change the past too? Sorry, I went on a tangent there.

This whole blog post is some

This whole blog post is some ol bullsh!t.

Cumberpatch was casted due to his acting ability. Racial coloration SHOULD have NOTHING to do with casting unless specifically relevant (such as about the blight of a particular group in a HISTORICAL context). Since Khan is not of any true ethnicity (rather a mix of everything), this makes it particularly irrelevant.

I think the movie suffers from bigger issues, like how Khan switches from sympathetic to total psychotic 3/4 in. As a mastermind of the battlefield, he knew the Enterprise was doomed from Marcus' plan to create another RMS Lusitania for a war against the Klingons. No way he could of possibly anticipated Scotty somehow getting inside and disabling the ship at a critical moment. It was pure luck that Khan got to commandeer the ship, and not strategy. That's the biggest fail of the movie. Khan NEVER would do something so foolish.

Because...

...he doesn't care. This is what happens when you hire someone to helm a franchise...that doesn't LIKE the franchise.

bunch of idiots looking for something to complain about

It's unbelievable that people are calling Star Trek of all series "racist." I don't see you people complaining about a Mexican being cast for an ethnically Indian character but as soon as a "white" guy gets cast you guys are throwing a fit. I guess according to you racists anyone who isn't from Europe looks the same. Regardless one could make the case that Montalban is "white" himself, at least if you're definition of white isn't limited to people of Nordic and Slavic descent. Last time I checked Mexican isn't a race.

This article is so

This article is so uninformed. At that time all "ethnic whites" were typecast and extoticfied in the U.S. you have Polish and Italian people playing native americans for gods sake. So if Ricardo was the child of German parents to Mexico and had very blond hair and blue eyes would you still call him a poc? he wasn't a poc, just because he didn't call himself white doesn't mean he wasn't usually immigrants call themselves by their nationality not by a race. and since he was born in mexico he felt himself to be mexican and spoke for mexican actors, that doesn't mean he was a poc! anymore than mitt romney's father was a poc. He was a white man period. So you should have a problem with the original casting, for gods sakes they darkened his skin it!

Khan - person of colour?

Um... if RM's of Spanish descent, then he's not a person of colour, by any definition that I'm aware of. He was born in Mexico? Great, he's Mexican, but not a person of colour. I'm a white guy born in South Africa. I'm not European, I'm African, in my view, but I couldn't rightfully be called a person of colour. So JJ just did the same thing, cast a white guy in a role that should have gone to a real person of colour.

Whitewashing is still a

Whitewashing is still a problem in the cinema and TV, yes. But I don't accept the argument by some that a white man should have played the role of Khan on the ground that it's a sticky wicket to cast a man of colour as a villain. Really? In the 21st century, aren't people enlightened enough to understand that just as real people good and bad come in all shapes, sizes and colours, so do heroes and villains? That casting a man of colour, a real Indian in the role of Khan would not indict a whole group of people as villainous terrorists? (Maybe not.) On the other hand, this whole issue of ethnicity could have been avoided by leaving the character Khan out of this story. If they wanted to follow a similar plot, they could easily have had a "superman" other than Khan from the same Eugenics Wars days with his own group hidden in torpedoes,. Acc. to Star Trek canon, as it were, Khan's group escaped Earth on the Botany Bay in cryo- compartments but were caught by Kirk centuries later and exiled on a faraway planet. That's why even using Khan at all here is contradictory. And please don't say this may be a "different timeline"> That's way too easy an excuse to whitewash the character..

Whitewashing is still a

Whitewashing is still a problem in the cinema and TV, yes. But I don't accept the argument by some that a white man should have played the role of Khan on the ground that it's a sticky wicket to cast a man of colour as a villain. Really? In the 21st century, aren't people enlightened enough to understand that just as real people good and bad come in all shapes, sizes and colours, so do heroes and villains? That casting a man of colour, a real Indian in the role of Khan would not indict a whole group of people as villainous terrorists? (Maybe not.) On the other hand, this whole issue of ethnicity could have been avoided by leaving the character Khan out of this story. If they wanted to follow a similar plot, they could easily have had a "superman" other than Khan from the same Eugenics Wars days with his own group hidden in torpedoes,. Acc. to Star Trek canon, as it were, Khan's group escaped Earth on the Botany Bay in cryo- compartments but were caught by Kirk centuries later and exiled on a faraway planet. That's why even using Khan at all here is contradictory. And please don't say this may be a "different timeline"> That's way too easy an excuse to whitewash the character..

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i am an indian.......

I was reading you people's blog.... i am also big fan of star trek movies...... and i think there should not be any discussion
about racial crap............ although i am an indian but i like benedict cumberbatch as khan.... and north indian sikh ( which khan is ) have nearly fare skin as a maxican without any british descent ( as sir kingsley have ) ..... but i am not worry about it that khan is white ...... movie was excellent ..... thats all ..... this discussion is supposed to be of uncivilized .....
which you people are not ..... there are a lot of other things to be worry about....
LIKE WHY I CAN NOT BE CAPTAIN KIRK......... :)