The “big deal” is:
- That Star Trek, a franchise known for it’s progressiveness, has regressed in casting and representation to the standards from the 1960s. Khan was a character of color. Regardless of how Star Trek decided to cast this character ~fifty years ago, using the racist casting practices oof yesteryears, there is no valid, non-discriminatory reason for the franchise to regress to that now.
- That aside from Faran Tahir’s brief role in the first five minutes of Trek09, there are no prominent South Asian characters in this franchise, so when a character is named Khan Noonien Singh you’d hope they would be able to find an actor of South Asian descent out of all of the ones that are out there.
- That it’s Paramount again, not feeling like they need to learn anything from whitewashing incidents like “The Last Airbender.”
- That Benedict Cumberbatch is a white man with British and Hollywood crossover appeal; he has access to countless roles that are blocked off actors of color— including hundreds of Star Trek characters…and this just happens to be one of the most prominent characters of color at all in science fiction. If they won’t even cast people of color for iconic bad guys…
- That the Cumberbatchness of Benedict Cumberbatch somehow outweighs the importance of calling out discrimination. But that’s not “silly,” to you, nah, the people who are upset about racism are the silly ones.
That’s why this is a big deal.
Let’s kill the “pre-existing continuity” argument right now, because it is tiring and does not support any argument as to why is OK for Cumberbatch to be Khan. The only “pre-existing continuity” that was destroyed would be everything in Star Trek lore after the events of the 2009 film. It altered time after the point where Nero came back to extract revenge, and none of the history up to then would have been altered. Nero didn’t go back to twentieth century earth and prevent Khan from being genetically engineered in India. It follows that changing the past at one point in time would not change what preceded it, only what comes after, so Khan’s history should remain the same. If not, then this continuity is a reboot, despite J. J. Abrams claims that it would have been disrespectful to do that.
I like Benedict Cumberbatch, I like Star Trek, but if he is indeed playing Khan (which I have issues with beyond the whitewashing, but that’s a story argument and not relevant here) it’s sad because we are in a time when you can and should actually cast the role with a South Asian actor.