I’ve been harping on this subject a lot lately, but I feel like somebody has to. The fact that Khan has been changed to a white man is quietly being accepted, and the performance lauded. I’ve seen people trying to say JJ did a good thing by taking color out of the equation, and that they are tired of POC being cast as the villains.
Do people not realize the history that was made when Khan appeared on network television? Let’s look at what was going on around the time Khan made his debut on network TV.
- August 28, 1963: 20,000 blacks and whites gather at the Lincoln Memorial to hear speeches against racism; among them is Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream.”
- June 12, 1963: Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers is gunned down outside of his home. His killer is not convicted until the year 1994.
- Summer 1964: The Mississippi Summer Freedom Project begins; civil rights workers help blacks register to vote. 3 are killed and many black churches and homes are burned in retaliation.
- August 4, 1964: Civil rights workers James E. Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.
- March 7, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. leads a 54-mile march to support black voter registration. They marched from Selma to Montgomery.
- June 12, 1967:Banning interracial marriage is ruled unconstitutional by Supreme Court.
- July 1967: More race riots occur in Detroit and New York; they are the worst riots in US history and result in 43 Detroit deaths.
- April 4, 1968: While outside his home, Martin Luther King Jr. is murdered by James Earl Ray; riots broke out in 125 cities in response.
"Space Seed" premiered on television in February of 1967, right smack dab in the middle of all this. Before Khan, Star Trek included a black woman, and Asian man, and a Russian character as main parts of the crew on the Enterprise. All three had vitals roles on the ship, and Captain Kirk looked to them for answers, and trusted them to help him complete his mission.
Do you not realize how huge this was? This was something people had never seen before, and to date, still don’t see it all that often. This broke the ground for so many of the actors and actresses we all know and love. This was history being made.
Then came Khan. While Ricardo Montalban was not a man of Indian descent, he was still a man of color. He was a man of color, playing a character that rivaled Captain Kirk. He was a character that commanded respect and admiration from those around him, because he was smart, cunning, charismatic, and powerful.
Khan Noonien Singh was a man that could out think and out muscle any person on the Enterprise. To state it more simply, a man of color was more powerful and more intelligent than all the other men and women aboard the Enterprise. Without Marla McGivers help, Kirk would not have been able to stop him.
A man of color would have defeated the crew of the Enterprise were it not for a guilty conscience and the use of a club. Khan’s strength could have easily overpowered Kirk’s, and it would have, had he not hit him over the head with a heavy tool.
This is what makes Khan more than the stereotypical POC villain. Khan is super human. He is created to be stronger, faster, smarter and better than a normal human being. He rises above the stereotype because he is BETTER than all aboard the Enterprise.
On top of that, a white woman falls in love with a man of color. In 1967. She gives up everything she’s known to be with him. The fact that Khan was a POC, and he was far more powerful and far more capable than all the others makes him stand apart from your stereotypical role POC are given when they play the part of the villain.Khan is an icon of television for being a groundbreaking character in the middle of our Civil Rights movement, just like Uhura and Sulu are.
Would you be okay if someone changed the race of Uhura or Sulu? I can’t see how you could be. There would be outrage from here to the moon if anyone tried to cast either of them as anything other than an Asian man, and an African American woman.
Yet with Khan, because he’s the villain, people think it’s okay to erase what he was because of what we’ve gone through over the past decade or so. Don’t you see? It’s because of that that Khan should have been cast as a man of Indian descent, as his biography clearly states he is. I know Ricardo was not Indian, as I’ve stated before, but back then getting POC on TV in roles that were main parts of the story wasn’t as easy as it is now. That’s why this is even more inexcusable. There is nothing to stop Paramount or JJ Abrams from casting any person from any ethnicity on the planet, and they chose to take one of the most iconic roles that belonged to POC, and give it to a white man.
It’s like taking the history of Star Trek, taking all the things it did to pave the way for so many people by refusing to stick to what was accepted, and throwing it in the mud. Everything about Star Trek was promoting acceptance of those different than ourselves, whether those people were green skinned aliens, or African American, or Asian.
Look at all the POC on TV or in movies today. Who do you think started the path to stardom for them? Who do you think started chipping away at those barriers that would have prevented them from becoming big name stars in the media?
Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Gene Roddenberry, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Ricardo Montalban.
Now, after reading all of this, if you can look me in the eye and still tell me you see nothing wrong with the fact that a white man is playing the role of Khan, well then, I guess that’s the opinion you’re going to stay with.But my hope is that maybe, just maybe, you can see why there are people out there who are so upset, and why the silent acceptance of this casting choice needs to be stopped.