In just one week since its release, The Martian has quickly become one of the most widely celebrated and well-reviewed movies of this year. The Matt Damon starrer opened to an almost $55 million U.S. release, while world numbers have already passed the $100 million mark. Critic ratings and audience ratings on Rotten Tomatoes are running neck and neck at 93 percent and 94 percent, respectively. But, not everyone loves everything about The Martian.
In a complaint released by The Hollywood Reporter the Media Action Network for Asian Americans' criticizes the Ridley Scott film for changing the races of two characters in the book that the film was based on, from Asian to white and black, instead. The film details the unwanted adventures of astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon). A dust storm forces Watney's crew to evacuate their mission on Mars, while believing he has died in the chaos. Mark soon finds himself abandoned on the far away world, trying to find and create the resources that will keep him alive until he can send a signal that will let someone know he’s still alive and would really, really like a ride home.
In the novel by Andy Weir, the characters of Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) and Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are each of Asian descent. Park is Korean American, while Kapoor is Southeast Asian. Guy Aoki, the organization’s founding president, takes issue with the fact that the source material included Asian characters, but when production was underway someone (probably Ridley Scott) felt the need to change the races. He’s also upset that Asian actors were denied the opportunity to add their talents to a film which has gone on to be lauded on the world stage, possibly limiting the opportunities of Asian actors in other big budget films.
Compounding all this is the fact that Ridley Scott’s last film, Exodus: Gods and Kings, which was released late last year, also found itself in the racial hot seat for casting a bevy of white actors to play many of the main characters, who were Egyptians. The movie was widely accused of "whitewashing" history.
Even though Ridley Scott hasn’t spoken out on this yet, I happen to think there are two sides to this. I can see the point Guy Aoki makes about how this was a sterling opportunity for Asian actors to get some points for appearing in solid roles in a good film. I also agree that it could have opened some more doors for actors of color, possibly all around, to be involved in more films that don’t focus on the characters’ races, but instead focus on what those characters are doing and going through. But…
First of all, we don’t know if the production team auditioned any actors of Asian descent for the roles. If they did, and simply couldn’t find actors that felt right in the role and decided to go with whoever they thought would fit, there is some sense in that. I’d like to think Guy Aoki would also be upset if two Asians were cast who went on to stink up the place, and give every other Asian actor a not-so-great rap.
All in all, it’s possible that both sides are right. Color-blind casting has been a hot-button issue for several years now. The Martian may have made the wrong decision, but that doesn’t mean that every film that employs the tactic has made a mess of things.