Okay, look, there are big spoilers for some relatively new nerd media that I’ve probably already given away by the title if you’re savvy, but I’m putting below the fold anyway. And to spoil the post proper, just to be meta for meta’s own sake: I’m going to rant about what I’m spoiling.

Yesterday, I learned through an accidental viewing of a news article that the newest Star Trek movie, Into Darkness, is bringing Khan Noonien Singh into the rebooted franchise. This despite JJ Abrams’ repeated denial that this was the case. SPOILERS. But that’s not what’s been bothering me about all this — from the very beginning, we’ve known that the villain was cast, and that they’re actually scrubbing a significant bit of darkness from its canon by having cast instead of a dark-skinned buff Latino to play the dark-skinned Indian Sikh Übermensch, a pale-as-fuck beanpole British dude.

They cast Benedict Fucking Cumberbatch as Khan.

Yeah. I’m real impressed. Slow clap.

JJ Abrams had a ton of white bad guys from the early series to resurrect, bad guys who could easily have been played by Cumberbatch without raising an eyebrow from even the most hardcore Trek-loyalist fans. Bad guys like Gary Mitchell, with his God-like powers and grudge against school rival Kirk. Finnegan, perhaps. Hell, slap a funny forehead on him and you could get a good Klingon story out of the deal, even though THEY’RE all over the place race-wise, but trend toward providing parts for darker-skinned actors. Cumberbatch coulda been a damn good Romulan, even. But no, they mucked with one of the most iconic characters ever instead. What a wasted opportunity!

A few weeks ago, I’d argued (mildly) with Stephanie over the possibility of casting Khan as a woman in the reboot. I said something along the line of, “the timeline split from the first movie, when the Reman dude went back in time and destroyed Vulcan, happened a few hundred years after Khan was already put in cryogenic stasis in the Botany Bay. We already know he’s a Sikh male. The timeline split wouldn’t reboot the entire history of Earth, just what happened after the point when the new events started happening, e.g. Kirk’s dad dying in action.”

I went on to describe a scenario that might get a female Khan without destroying canon: say after the timeline split, the Botany Bay is never picked up by the Enterprise because Enterprise’s own timeline was severely compressed (Kirk, the new recruit, barely out of having cheated through the Kobayashi Maru, is suddenly captain without any intervening missions?). So the cryo pods that the Eugenics War criminals are in aren’t opened at the other timeline’s scheduled time. Thus, Khan’s pod might fail, and he dies. One of the women in one of the other pods might take up his name then, and start trying to live up to his ideals and teachings. She could be the second Khan, like how in comic books multiple people could take certain names.

But Stephanie, at this point, rightly pointed out that the fans would go nuts over a pretender being an inferior copy of the original, no matter how big a badass villain she is.

After seeing them whitewash Khan, I’m kinda feeling like, fuck it. If they’re allowed to change canon to make characters more white, and fans aren’t screaming about it, Why not make Khan a woman with zero explanation, just a straight gender swap, despite the howls of protest from those same fickle and entitled fans? A woman Khan. Yeah. Whose evil plans are powered by the douchebro fans’ tears.

I like it. Someone pitch Paramount for the next reboot. Now that Abrams is jumping ship to Star Wars, another reboot’s bound to follow suit soon enough.

(And seriously, that’s way better suited to him, with his tinkering with canon and inability to get the “gist” of Star Trek’s exploration of the unknown and pluralism about races and difference — might as well try to undo all the damage Lucas has done to his own franchise!)


  1. says

    This. All of this. If I weren’t currently feeling shitfuckingly miserable, I’d have a lot of very negative emotions about this pointless whitewashing.

    Now that Abrams is jumping ship to Star Wars

    white Jango/Boba Fett in 3… 2… 1…

  2. Pteryxx says

    Well, the racefail *in Star Trek* sure has increased since the 60’s…

    Racebending has been all OVER the Khan whitewashing, by the way. Check it:

    In the original Trek, Khan, with his brown skin, was an Übermensch, intellectually and physically perfect, possessed of such charisma and drive that despite his efforts to gain control of the Enterprise, Captain Kirk (and many of the other officers) felt admiration for him.

    And that’s why the role has been taken away from actors of colour and given to a white man. has always pointed out that villains are generally played by people with darker skin, and that’s true … unless the villain is one with intelligence, depth, complexity. One who garners sympathy from the audience, or if not sympathy, then — as from Kirk — grudging admiration. What this new Trek movie tells us, what JJ Abrams is telling us, is that no brown-skinned man can accomplish all that. That only by having Khan played by a white actor can the audience engage with and feel for him, believe that he’s smart and capable and a match for our Enterprise crew.

    Star Trek: Into Whiteness

  3. Robert B. says

    Doooooood, nooooooo

    I mean, okay. Khan is the greatest villain in the history of the franchise, so they basically had to bring him back sooner or later. And putting him in the second movie is a nod to prior canon. But, as much as I like Cumberbatch, just no. There had to be somebody else they could have cast. Or, like you say, if there was a reason they needed to use Cumberbatch, pick a different villain. (He would have been an awesome Romulan. I would say “best Romulan ever” but Andreas Katsulas is a person who existed.)

    I’m having flashbacks to the Last Airbender movie…

  4. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    A reminder of what happened in the first movie…
    Video: HonestTrailers – Star Trek (2009)

  5. Rob says

    Seen the movie. Good entertainment, but Khan lacked true menace. Also, it was perplexing having someone so white called Khan I have to say.

  6. Tyrant says

    And what a romulan he would have been. Somehow I think someone in this production is an idiot. Come on, if you are forced to hire the most popular guy right now for your movie to boost box office, why not go all the way and cast Justin Bieber as Khan? With some simging in the scenes like in the 50s.

  7. voidhawk says

    Honestly, there were so many inconsistencies in the movie within itself, I completely ignored all the canon violations.

    Trek’s dead, the latest film is only watchable if you completely turn your brain off and forget what happened literally 30 seconds before, let alone 30 years before.

  8. left0ver1under says

    JJ Abrams

    What else needs to be said?

    Abrahms makes crap, and M Night Shyamalan makes crap. The only difference is how much money their movies make.

  9. theignored says

    According to the novelization of the previous movie, Spock was telling his alternative self that he knows that he’ll never get back home because he knows that he was not only thrown back in time, but also thrown into an alternate universe as well.

    That would explain why, in the comic book series that leads up the the “Into Darkness” movie, they have “Mudd” as being a hot Bajoran blonde woman instead of an older while balding human.

  10. Suido says

    If you really want to take Benedict Cumberbatch’s name in vain, I suggest following the lead of this podcasted radio segment. Skip to 20:25 and listen for approximately a minute.

    Context: radio hosts naming winners and losers of the week, note that this particular nomination was based on a hoax article.

  11. Aliasalpha says

    This is bloody disgraceful! Don’t they care that they’re running the franchi… Oh wait…

  12. Tyrant says

    It is particularly infuriating as both an admirer of Cumberbatch and a long time fan of Star Trek.

    BC as a Womulan would have been so epic, I can hardly express the epicity in words. A return of Khan would also have been, if done right.

    It’s almost as if, every time either Lindelof or Abrams are involved in something, I want to go down on my knees and yell: why! why! why are you such mindless know-nothing assholes??? And why do you have to choose all the stuff I find cool and ruin it with your lazy writing and/or faux “philosophical” veneer that is as shallow as it is silly.

    Now Abrams gets Episode XII as well, SF fans really can’t catch a break in this millenium, can we?

  13. Ulysses says

    They should have a Star Wars-Star Trek crossover. Cumberbatch would make a great Jar-Jar Binks recast as a villain.

  14. Tyrant says

    “Cumberbatch would make a great Jar-Jar Binks recast as a villain.”

    Ah, witty, adding a nice twist to the whole whitewashing thing – casting the a racist stereotypization of a jamaican with a pale brit in the sequel. But then with a shaven head please, as an old school skin performing some raggae stuff with the Ewoks.

    I can’t say that I wouldn’t deny being totally ready to pay to see that!

  15. says

    I dare say it hasn’t attracted too much attention because few laypeople, or Trekkies for that matter, made the connection between Khan’s name and his ostensible Sikh ancestry. Khan was Montelban, and vice versa. There’s an argument to be made that either you’re going to cast another Latin American or Spanish actor in the role*, performing an impersonation; or go with someone who’s actually Sikh for sheer common sense, which would’ve been rather inappropriate given the movie’s themes; or finalise the nominative divorce as they did by just casting whoever radiates the most charismatic malevolence.

    On the gripping hand, he didn’t need to be Khan, or any other classic Trek villain at all. By the time the reveal is made, he’s already been established as a foe of sufficient calibre. Relabelling him doesn’t really do much but set up a really classic bit of ham from a certain cast member…

    There’s also an argument to be made that too many of cinema’s great minority characters are villains, and not heroes. If Star Trek’s going to be more diverse they should start on the bridge of the Enterprise.

    *I think I read that Benicio Del Toro read for the role.

  16. Susan says

    (warning … long rant and I can’t seem to get spaces between my paragraphs. I must be missing something. I am a total fumbler with HTML, too.)

    May we address the utter sexism in the new series … miniskirts and token females who exist primarily as eye-candy for men and love interests for the characters?

    The old series … well, it was set in the 60’s, and the pilot actually had men and women in the SAME uniform. Now they bring it back, and … miniskirts, for people on a quasi-military vessel, the most ridiclous uniform that could be imagined, there only for men to ogle.

    On another forum, I was castigated, called stupid, etc. etc. for “not remembering” that this was because the original series was like that. I watched the original series as a 10-year-old on its first run. There was no greater Trekker than I was. I met nearly all the original cast, and my first SF convention was one of the earliest as well.

    And I cringe at those miniskirts. Why I’ll never see any more of these movies (though I love SF movies). Even Abrams admitted they were sexist for their lack of female characters!

    And let’s get into Iron Man 3, which threw away a wonderful chance to show someone suffering from PTSD actually confronting it instead of curing it by “building something.” And the film was all over the map. Sheesh, and I was looking forward to it. (Great fight with the armored clones, and Pepper actually getting some action scenes, but the rest … meh.)

    At least I have The Wolverine (please let it be good), Man of Steel (ditto) and Thor: The Dark world (go Loki!). Yeah, a 54 year old woman who loves superhero movies.

    And wished like hell that the new ST franchise actually took a step forward instead of backward.

    And why can’t I get spaces between my paragraphs?

  17. says

    (I’m not sure what my point was there, exactly; I don’t disagree that they’ve rewritten Khan’s race without good reason. I guess I felt the need to hash out some of the arguments for why they would’ve decided to do that, but they’re not exactly persuasive ones.)

  18. Dave Godfrey says

    I have to admit that the witewashing of Khan hadn’t occurred to me until now, so I’m glad someone has reminded me of why this is a problem.

    In my defence I was far too distracted by the film suddenly becoming crap, and repeating all the most iconic bits of Wrath and making a complete hash of it. I know its suppose to be a major “woah! cool!” moment in the film but it wasn’t. My immediate reaction to “my name is Khan” was “oh bollocks, I bet the film’s going to suck now”. And suck it indeed did. Yes its flashy, yes Cumberbatch is a very good actor (I’ve had a Paul Bettany-style man-crush on him since he narrated the BBC’s “South Pacific” series about the natural history of the Pacific Ocean and its islands), but th script does’t give him much to do, other than look menacing, he doesn’t even try to compete with Monalban’s chest, and frankly Sylar’s no Shatner.

  19. siveambrai says

    It’s almost as if, every time either Lindelof or Abrams are involved in something, I want to go down on my knees and yell: why! why! why are you such mindless know-nothing assholes???

    Not the dramatic drop to your knees and yell “Aaaaaabraaaaams”?

  20. says

    Khan could well have had a sister or half-sister: another genetically augmented human from the same batch, made with genetic material from the same donors. Heck, there could be an explicitly sex-swapped Khan, made to compare how the genetic augmentations worked in male and female children. This counterpart—let’s call her Kalyan Noonien Kaur—led a second group of escapees after the Eugenics Wars. Kalyan and Khan’s followers fled in opposite directions to increase the chance that their legacy could continue. (Would people with “superior intellect” really put all their eggs in the same DY-100?) In the new timeline, Kalyan’s ship is found instead of Khan’s.

    There! Simple.

  21. says

    Yeah… I’m not impressed with the miniskirts OR the whitewashing of Khan. I was thinking it is a shame they’d already cast Faran Tahir in the first movie, because he’d have been an awesome Khan… he’s got a combination of charisma and menace that would work. Benjamin Bumblefuck? Not so much, and so so so white he’s almost translucent.

    And all the female characters seem to wind up in their underwear… WHY?!?! I have the Internet for that, don’t cheapen my moviegoing experience by basically saying “we didn’t have any good ideas for this part, here’s a woman in her undies.” I get it, you can’t sell a movie filled with anything but the most attractive people alive, but FFS put them in situation-appropriate clothing, and don’t create BS situations just to get them out of the clothing.

  22. says

    Ugh khan? Really?

    I have to admit after the first movie the bar for effective an menacing villains was set pretty low after angry guy with a trident. If they had to use Cumberbatch why couldn’t they have gone with say Gary Mitchel or (currently on tv) Garth of Izar. Either one has lots of potential to be a great villain and you wouldn’t get the whitewashing or have people comparing your offerings to what many people consider the best villain in the series. But then again given everything I’ve seen of Abrams (not much to be fair) he seems like a rather mediocre writing talent.

  23. bluefoot says

    And here I was thinking that FORTY-PLUS years after the original episode aired we might actually be able to be more progressive and innovative than the original Star Trek. At the very least they could have picked an Indian actor to play Khan. Silly me.

    Also, Cumberbatch would have made an *awesome* Garth of Izar. And certainly has the acting chops to do something really f-ing cool with Gary Mitchell’s story/transformation.

    Despite my decades-long love of Star Trek, this is certainly one movie I am not seeing.

  24. timberwoof says

    So where are the multiracial sci fi movies that bombed despite not sucking? On what rational basis have the studios all continued the white-washing trend? Was there some article written by some studio exec that said that white-washing would lead to greater profits?

    The Aliens movies had more-or-less multiracial casts and they did pretty well. (A hockey-player acquaintance of mine told me that Private Vasquez inspired her.) Both of the Avatar movies were whitewashed … and both sucked.

    There’s another trend like white-washing, and that’s USA-washing. Tom Cruise’s Last Samurai was more likely a German officer than an American. The first Allies to capture a German submarine and retrieve its Enigma machine were British, not American. Most (sucky) stories about alien invasions take place in the US. (District 9 was an exception, and it did not suck).

    Star Trek is being white-washed, made white-boy-friendly, and has abandoned what made the original so good despite it being a little campy. It is being made to suck.

  25. ESC_key says

    De-lurking here to express my extreme dismay that Cumberbatch is Khan. Here I was super stoked that he would make a fantastic bad guy, and they just had to go and whitewash one of the most iconic Trek villains instead of picking any other! So sad :(

    Coincidentally, does anyone remember the nerd rage when they decided to have the Starbuck character written as female for the BSG reboot? It’s on the wikipedia page for her character, where it says the actress got booed at Comic-Con and even received a death threat in the mail before filming. The real irony there is that apparently everybody forgot that in the original BSG Boomer was not only male, but also black. Maybe they just didn’t care as much?

    I wonder how many people are going to be booing Cumberbatch at Comic-Con if he shows up? Not that I think anyone should, but I’m guessing it won’t be a whole lot of people anyway…

  26. RobNYNY1957 says

    Well, for one thing, Khan is not a traditional Sikh name. (Singh is the most common Sikh surname.) If you have a Sikh character named Khan (or for that matter, O’Malley, Chang or Amenhotep), you can do pretty much whatever you like with his skin color.

    Communities using Khan as a surname [edit]

    The communities that use the surname Khan include the Afghans/Pashtuns, Bengalis, Mughals, Muslim Rajputs and Turkic peoples in Central Asia and Northern Pakistan; tribes in Pakistan and their descendents in India, Baloch tribes in Balochistan and in Sindh and various Mongol, Turks, and Tatar tribes in central and northern Asia.

  27. Rob says

    Proper spacing seems to require that you type [return]”& n b s p ;”[return] (with the quotes and spaces between characters removed. The one exception seems to be after a blockquote, when yo get the required spacing without the extra [return].
    I don’t know why…
    In the above I have put the spacing after ‘Susan’ and after ‘why…’, but not after the main paragraph just to demonstrate the effect. If anyone has a better way to do this I’d love to know.

  28. bovarchist says

    This is the worst news since the new Fantastic Four movie cast a black guy as Johnny Storm!

  29. EllaHedgehog says

    I definitely wouldn’t have minded if Khan had been played by a POC, new Star Trek seems a bit of a white boy desert, not just with the main cast but even with the extras. It’s definitely a step back in terms of diversity in Star Trek. Personally I would have preferred if they had made the movies with completely new characters and new plots so they couldn’t keep blaming their sexism and racism on the original series. But I’m not sure if I’d say Khan has been white washed. He was played by a white guy the first time around, Khan was supposed to be a title, Noonien is a made up sci-fi name and Singh is from the Sikh religion, which any man regardless of race who joins the Sikh religion takes on as a name. And then the name makes it’s way as a family name to non-Sikhs and there’s definitely white Sikhs and Singhs around.

  30. Aaroninmelbourne says

    Old Uhura was a powerful, in-control African woman, New Uhura is a chick who can’t control her emotions. Old Sulu was an excellent pilot, New Sulu’s an Asian who leaves the handbrake on. Old Spock was an alien who was trustworthy, New Spock is an aloof intellectual who only pretends to be in control. Old Scotty was an amazing and dedicated engineer, New Scotty is there to be the dedicated comic relief character. Old Kirk was gung-ho yet responsible, New Kirk is a privileged irresponsible brat who gets control of the flagship because of daddy’s reputation. Even Nero is a walking talking stereotype: a stoopid blue collar worker who is violent, thoughtless and vengeful.
    And we’re surprised that English Khan fits into being a cliched cardboard cutout of a comic strip character because… ?
    The fact that the new “Star Trek” is little more than a devolution into the shallow end of the fangirling market, a “Galaxy Quest” that takes itself far too seriously, really isn’t all that astonishing. Hollywood is in the grips of the “Let’s not take risks and just refilm something that worked before” fad at the moment, and it shows in every new piece of glitzy uninspired rebooted (read: rehashed) tat they pump out. Nevertheless, the more I think about it, the more disappointing it is. With an interested and talented Director, and good writers, this new film series could have been so, so much more.

  31. voidhawk says

    “And all the female characters seem to wind up in their underwear… WHY?!?! I have the Internet for that, don’t cheapen my moviegoing experience by basically saying “we didn’t have any good ideas for this part, here’s a woman in her undies.” I get it, you can’t sell a movie filled with anything but the most attractive people alive, but FFS put them in situation-appropriate clothing, and don’t create BS situations just to get them out of the clothing.”

    Oh yeah, that annoyed me as well. I still don’t understand why Ms X *[spoiler] ended up in her underwear for Kirk to have a cheeky peek at.

    The female uniforms are sexist but they are in line with TOS uniforms

    Carol Marcus[/spoiler]

  32. mikeedwards says

    On the subject of underlying racial prejudice, why does every sophisticated bad guy in every franchise have to be British? The only exception I can think of with a British hero is Thor, and he falls under the “all ancient Europeans must sound British” trope. Even Picard had to be French.

  33. Jason Failes says

    I’ve skipped a lot of the comments to avoid spoilers, so I may be repeating what someone else has said, but this actually makes a lot of sense.

    Khan was a world-famous 20th century global dictator. His picture would be all over the historical records. He has every reason to hide his name and his face so he can get away with his nefarious plans.

  34. captainblack says

    sonofrojblake #33 being “dark skinned” and an “evil brit” are not mutually exclusive, hell for enough money I would have been prepared to play Khan myself.


  35. says

    Hell, at least one of the TV ads for the movie had some woman in her underwear. Can you imagine a film with a female lead having an ad with Joe Secondarycharacter in his underwear?

    In regards to ESC_key’s comment about Boomer becoming white in New Galactica it’s interesting that two of the major secondary characters in Original Galactica, Boomer and Colonel Tigh, were both black. Original Galactica had some Mormon influence going on, and Glen Larson is a Mormon. The series was in when the Mormon leadership decided, after decades of discrimination, that people of African descent could join the priesthood.

    Ricardo Montalban played Asian characters several times. The most prominent example was probably as the Kabuki actor Nakamura in the big screen adaptation of James Michener’s Sayonara. He also played Native Americans several times.

  36. Robin Graves says

    Two words. Naveen. Andrews.

    Evil Brit and of Indian descent to boot, not to mention a face familiar to North American and geek audiences.

  37. Jan says

    So, a part originally played by a mexican now gets played by a white brit. Who cares? As far as I recall the supposed sikh ancestry (what does that even mean in a 23rd century sci-fi setting?) of the character had exactly zero significance for the story line in the original wrath of khan. Ricardo Montalban wasn’t exactly dark skinned either, no whitewashing there. Cumberbatch simply is a popular actor, who also happens to be a good one, that’s why he was casted.
    As has been remarked before if a dark skinned actor had played the part somebody surely would have complained about people of color always playing the villains.

  38. says

    Khan changing his appearance could handwave away an actor who doesn’t look much like Ricardo Montelban. But why not find an Indian actor who doesn’t look much like Ricardo Montelban?

    There are so many ways bringing back Khan could have made sense in-story and been more progressive than the original series. Pity they all require a minimum of imagination.

  39. timberwoof says

    The new “Star Trek” is a “Galaxy Quest” that takes itself far too seriously.

    Aaroninmelbourne, I am so stealing this!

    “Personally I would have preferred if they had made the movies with completely new characters and new plots so they couldn’t keep blaming their sexism and racism on the original series,” said EllaHedgehog. I would so have liked to see a Star Trek movie with Captain Sulu, Christian Slater, Lt. Rand, and those other interesting-looking people from that ship.

  40. says

    Oooh, Naveen Andrews. What is he up to? She wondered with panties a-quiver.

    In other news, I’m getting pretty sick of JJ Abrams doing ALL of the sci-fi, all of the time.

  41. bovarchist says

    Afraid of my measly two or three #FTBullies comments a month, Thibideau? Oh the hatred….

  42. says

    Pffft. Right, impossiblebones. No, I’m not afraid of things that are all heat and no fire, all poison and no pen, all noise and no signal. If you had an argument, I wouldn’t be curating you out of my personal online experience. It’s a damn shame that you think any of your nonsense is a good use of your time, frankly.

  43. David Marjanović says

    Star Trek: Into Whiteness

    I tried to laugh and scream at the same time.

    There’s another trend like white-washing, and that’s USA-washing. Tom Cruise’s Last Samurai was more likely a German officer than an American.

    Yep, Japan had its military reorganized by Prussians, the people with an actual reputation for that.

  44. Callinectes says

    I saw wrath of Khan for the first time last week, and it never occurred to me that he was Indian. If you had not pointed it out, I would have seen Into Darkness and not even blinked.

  45. Russell Glasser says

    Susan #17: “The old series … well, it was set in the 60′s, and the pilot actually had men and women in the SAME uniform. Now they bring it back, and … miniskirts, for people on a quasi-military vessel, the most ridiclous uniform that could be imagined, there only for men to ogle.”

    Wat. Are we talking about the same show here?

    I’m not saying it wasn’t sexist THEN, but don’t think that this is an Abrams invention…


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