Star Trek Into Darkness is by all means a great film in a wonderfully vast and diverse universe marred by the outcry against the “Whitewashing,” of certain iconic characters (One iconic character).
Like many science fiction writers, Gene Roddenberry and his team created a character with all of the great advantages that evolution had to offer humans. The result was a man given the impressive sounding name of Khan Noonien Singh. And like a great many science fiction characters, the description fit a man of color. Ricardo Montalbán brought the character to life first in Space Seed and most popularly in The Wrath of Khan.
The casting of Benedict Cumberbatch into the fold of Khan isn’t an issue of the character’s ethnicity. Khan has no ethnicity. Nor is it an issue of his being classified as Sikh, thanks to his very telling last name.Sikhism is a religion in Northern India, practiced almost exclusively by the people in Punjab. I would know, I grew up in a Sikh family. Actively practiced the religion for many years. My grandfathers were both Singhs. Singh is a title given to you when you take vows to follow the faith. When you become a warrior for god. It preaches goodness and kindness, giving when you can, protecting those that need to be protected.
It is also one of the most inclusive religions. At least on paper. Anyone can become a Sikh, anyone can become a Singh. Or not. Sikhism is all about finding your way to the one true being. And because the aim is to return from where you came, it is held that all people have a different path. Be it Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, ect. You make your own way to the same central place, with your own guide.So a man with Cumberbatch’s face can be called Khan Noonien Singh.
It is disappointing on a different grounds.
As a child, seeing a man of color on the screen with the name Khan Noonien Singh was a godsend. He was incredible, intelligent, different. In a time when everyone that looked like me played a bumbling terrorist, Khan was evil incarnate. And that was okay. Because he was a villain you identified with. He was(is) a badass. IN SPACE.
I’m not angry that the character is now portrayed by Cumberbatch. Hell, I’m even a member of the CumberCollective, he’s phenomenal. But he doesn’t look like me. I will root for the character, because I love villains (my heroes are just good villains), but I won’t want to be him. If I was a child watching this character, I wouldn’t be inspired. That is the issue.
So no, it isn’t wrong, but it’s disappointing and I will get over it.
This isn’t about ‘whitewashing.’ It is about how we present the world, how we see the future, and what we want to inspire in people.
Khan Noonien Singh influenced the type of person I am in some ways. Not quite so powerfully as Ursula LeGuin’s red skinned, Ged from EarthSea. He and characters like him, helped make me the type of writer I am. Not afraid to make a woman of color my main character.
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