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Wednesday, May 01, 2013 

Iron Man 3 producers describe how the Mandarin is written up

The New York Post spoke with the Iron Man moviemakers about how they came to the decision to characterize the Mandarin. They say the beard is meant to evoke Fidel Castro's. Now that I got to look at a better picture (the ones I saw first were too close-up and not bright enough), yes, I suppose it does look a bit like the one grown by the now incapacitated dictator of Cuba, and probably does look a bit like bin Laden's too (and a cap he wears is meant to evoke Qaddafi's). So, I suppose on that, we'd have to give them some credit.

However, here's where their defense of the changes turns up along with political correctness:
One of the problems with bringing the Mandarin to the big screen was his problematic origins. The character from the early comics could be considered a racist caricature, like Fu Manchu or similarly insensitive Hollywood bad guys from bygone eras.

A passage on the Mandarin’s first comic book appearance reads, “In the remote vastnesses [sic] of Red China stands the castle of the most mysterious, the most feared Oriental of all time.”

Clearly an update was in order.

“The franchise has evolved from comics that were written in the 1960s,” Kingsley says. “I think perhaps — I’m guessing — they might have presented a simplified version of life, rather polarized. Now the Marvel franchise has decided to bring it into the 21st century.”

“Iron Man 3” co-writer and director Shane Black admits that he originally didn’t want to use the villain because of the racist overtones. Ultimately a solution was hit upon: Instead of making the Mandarin an ethnic Chinese, why not make his race and origins indeterminate? (This strategy also didn’t hurt in the huge movie market of China Marvel is hoping to crack.)
I can't claim to be an expert, but is calling the baddie an "Oriental" really "racist" as they say? The word basically describes anybody who's from the far east, and could include Russia too since it extends well into the Asian continent, and why do I get the feeling that the filmmakers' concerns lie more with calling China "Red", a problem still plaguing that country today? And if nobody would have a problem with calling a European villain something like "the most feared Russian/German/Balkan of all time", then why should they have a problem with a word that's otherwise vague in its meaning?

Furthermore, what they avoid acknowledging here is that back in the 1960s, Stan Lee and company took an anti-communist stance, and even Iron Man reflected that with some of the villains appearing. In any case, I never got the impression from past stories I read that comics writers of those times ever thought the Chinese were inherently bad, even after the country turned more communist over following decades, and during WW2, China was called an ally of the west. I do know that that back in the Golden Age, there was a surprising case of stereotypical depictions of Asians, as this article once spoke about. But what they don't mention is that the Japanese "stereotypes" were basically an outraged reaction to the assault on Pearl Harbor and the Rape of Nanking, much like any damning takes on Germans at the time because of how they treated Jews and other peoples in Europe. Do the filmmakers have a problem with that? Over the next decade or so, that all changed. But the fact is that not all the caricatures from the WW2 era were done out of bad faith.

It's unfortunate that even Big Hollywood is claiming the Mandarin was an "Asian stereotype", without even noting that he was a reflection of communist conquerors of the time. What does matter now and is the downside here is the questionable idea of depicting the Mandarin as American. Why must he be that but not maybe a native of the Transylvanian Alps, Dracula's territory? That might actually have something to it. We can only hope this'll turn out to be better than originally expected, and have enough redeeming ideas to offset the downsides.

Nevertheless, the moviemaker's capitulation to the Chinese commies is pretty bad, and shouldn't be overlooked, and the footage that'll be seen in the copy they're marketing in China is bound to be concerning.

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Marvel (and DC) did stories in the 1960's that denounced bigotry and encouraged tolerance (e.g., Avengers #32-33), so I doubt that the Mandarin was an intentionally racist caricature. In the early sixties, the US and the East were in the Cold War, so it was only natural for Captain America and Iron Man to fight both Russian and Red Chinese villains. By the same token, Cap and the original Human Torch fought German and Japanese villains in World War II. And it would be perfectly appropriate for those heroes to fight Muslim terrorists now, but, political correctness being what it is, don't hold your breath.

Yeah, with political correctness running rampant in the medium, I don't expect Marvel or DC to do a story where they would fight against Muslim terrorists.

Not much I could add. Although, I recall in the 94 Iron Man animated series, the producers gave him green skin, which gave a nice Ming the Merciless vibe. And couldn't be done, either, today, given all the criticisms Ming gets now.

As for Big Hollywood not being aware of the Mandarin's true origins, well, that's just beyond disappointing. I expect more of you, Christian Toto.

Marvel better make some new blond White male villains, since that's the only acceptable villain, these days.

Yeah, I remember that cartoon. I watched when I was a little kid.

Remember the Flash Gordon series that was briefly on the Sci-Fi Channel? They turned Ming into a white dude so they wouldn't "offend" people.

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