*SPOILERS FOR STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS FROM NOW ON*
Whitewashing: to cast a white person in the role of a person of colour in tv, film or stage. The issue of whitewashing in film is persistent and widespread, from blockbusters like Star Trek: Into Darkness (where Benedict Cumberbatch plays Indian super-human Khan) to true-life thrillers like Argo, where Ben Affleck plays the Mexican/Irish/Italian main character, Tony Mendez.
Hopefully, it’s obvious that this comic is mocking the implausibility of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan – while most movies would (quite shamefully) make up their whitewashing actors, Cumberbatch on screen is as blatently not-Indian as you can get – rather than mocking the concerns about whitewashing.
The Cumberbatches’ (Cumberbatchen? Cumberbatchae? Or is the plural of Cumberbatch just “Cumberbatch”?) fearsome visages in panel 3 were inspired by illustrations of Japanese ghosts in the Gazu Hyakki Yagyou, a nineteenth-century Japanese book by Toriyama Sekien. It was my suggestion to do this, since I think the illustrations in that book are very lively and entertaining but still slightly creepy.
Martin would like to add that drawing Benedict Cumberbatch as a monstrous being genuinely kind of creeped him out, as if his pale, skeletal hands were reaching towards Martin’s goosebumped skin, in the transformation from ordinary British actor to terrifying spectre of the bitter night’s wind. It was, in Martin’s own words, like “dark magics that involved burning (his) photo”.
Now I think about it, though, the fact that we used Japanese ghosts as a visual inspiration for depicting Benedict Cumberbatch is…well, it’s not quite whitewashing, but it’s…something?