The main villain in the upcoming third Iron Man movie is The Mandarin. Now I am sure that with a name like The Mandarin it automatically makes you think of casting Sir Ben Kingsley in the role, right? Who else would you even think of casting aside from Kingsley?
Don’t get me wrong…I am all for colorblind casting when done correctly. And to me being done correctly is a combo of a really good actor being cast while at the same time not giving the shaft to an already underrepresented group. Casting Samuel L. Jackson as the usually lily-white Nick Fury (depending on which comic book universe you are talking about) was a great decision and helped to remove the flop taste of David Hasselhoff in the role from that shitty FOX TV movie in the 90s. Then on the opposite end of the spectrum you have Johnny Depp cast as Tonto in the upcoming LONE RANGER picture which just boggles the mind regardless of how many times it is reported that Depp is 1/10th Apache or something on his mother’s side. All of the Native American actors in Hollywood have got to be majorly pissed off that none of them were given a shot at playing one of the few Native American characters in films right now. Which brings us to The Mandarin.
A little back story on The Mandarin for the uninitiated…The Mandarin was created by comic book legend Stan Lee in 1964. His back story was that he was the child of a Chinese nobleman and a British heiress and that both of his parents died when he was a young child which led to him being raised by his xenophobic aunt who imparted her twisted view of the world on the young and impressionable Mandarin. So the young Mandarin took his sizable inheritance and used it to train himself into a scientific genius/expert martial artist as most rich orphans do in comic books. Somewhere along the way he stumbled across a crashed spaceship where he acquired 10 rings all with a different power set. So now he was brilliant, physically gifted and armed with alien technology so the next logical step was to become a super-villain with Iron Man quickly becoming his favorite target. Of course it being 1964 when the character was created, there was a heaping helping of racial insensitivity involved in the look of the character.
In the movie his back story is a smidge different…he is some kind of big deal terrorist with a penchant for Eastern philosophy/culture/mysticism who has been mentioned in the previous Iron Man films but never shown. The scuttlebut is that the character’s admittedly racist early incarnation is what prompted the casting of Kingsley (who is of Indian descent himself) instead of going with an East Asian actor. There are also some rumors that because the Chinese government is involved with the film in some way they put pressure on the studio to not make the villain be Chinese.
I can understand not wanting to put a racist caricature in a major motion picture that would offend millions of people and I even get hiring Ben Kingsley because he is Ben freaking Kingsley and anytime you can get him in your movie it is a good thing. However, and this is just me spitballing, but why not attempt to present a character that is not a racial stereotype but is instead a complex, multi-faceted villain that could also be portrayed by one of the many underutilized Asian actors in Hollywood? Its not like Asian actors are being cast in major roles in guaranteed global blockbusters on a regular basis and I am pretty damn confident that Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Chow Yun-fat, Hiroyuki Sanada, Donnie Yen, John Lone, Rick Yune or Ken Watanabe would have all done just as good a job as Sir Ben in the role.
And finally…why the hell does the Mandarin talk like a hillbilly Agent Smith from THE MATRIX? I am not sure many global terrorists originate from the Ozarks and if I am this distracted by it just from trailers I can’t even imagine how annoyed I am going to be dealing with it for over 2 hours in a movie theater.