Well this is pretty god damn dumb. If Dr. Strange and Magik have the power to just rewind time and fix everything at will, then pretty much nothing bad can ever happen again in the Marvel Universe. This was a fun adventure, but the stakes are so watered down by this point, and the writing is so completely contrived with all this Deus Ex-Machina stuff that just fixes everything in the last two pages. (The Uncanny X-Men #191 – Mar 1985)

So the Doctor Strange trailer is out.

I’ve been having a lot of conflicted feelings.  It’s definitely one of those situations where, yes, the original Strange was white!  But to think about what they could have done with this character…

So imagine.  An Asian med student. A Chinese guy getting mocked for being one of a thousand Chinese students, for thinking he’s going to be special. A Filipino guy getting laughed at and told to scrub the floors because that’s all he’s good for, doesn’t he know that he’d have to struggle to make nurse?  An Indian guy, keeping his head down and getting the work done while people make Apu accents at him. Imagine the work he puts into forcing his ethnicity behind him.  He stops speaking Mandarin at home. He starts throwing his mama’s pancit in the trash when she makes him take leftovers, instead of saving it for later.  He learns to love hamburgers, ignoring his great-grandma’s ghost in the back of his head and her horror at him consuming beef.

He finishes med school, gets his residencies behind him, and he was right all along– he is astoundingly skilled. A marvel.  Hopeless patients thrive under his hands.  But is he going to be recognized for that? Well, I mean, he’s Asian. He’s not special, they’re just meticulous like that. So the recognition comes, sure, but people make jokes, even his friends, about Surgeon Level: Asian.  And the ego and the anger build up, like nacre on a pearl, layer after layer of contempt as he gets better and better at his skills.  Contempt for the people around him. Contempt for the people who made him. Contempt for the people he saves. Contempt, all of it, for himself, for that nineteen-year-old pitching his mama’s pancit in the garbage before going to bed.

And then the accident happens.  And he’s an out-of-work Asian dude. No more the protection of his title, and everyday shit–people pulling their eyes at him or making small dick jokes, people doing racist accents and calling him any of a thousand slurs–hurt a lot more when he can’t say I’m a doctor. I’m above them. Because all the work he did, he’s never going to escape the color of his skin.

And a relative, his mom, his auntie, seeing the darkness growing deeper and deeper in him, says “Stephen. You need to go home for a while and get away from this. Rest.”  And he thinks about “home.”  He’s second or third generation American, this is his home, but the children of immigrants all know the longing for a place where we fit. Where our eyes aren’t out of place and our skin isn’t remarked upon, where we never have to hear “Where are you from?”  He thinks about being five years old, his hand–broken now, aching–small in his mother’s as she walked him down a bright street.   He smells adobo at random, out of nowhere, another ghost calling to him. He thinks about when things were simpler, and despite his contempt for himself, for his mother’s people and his roots, he books a plane ticket.

And the plane is full of people speaking the language he’s stopped speaking to his mother, the language he was never really steady in anyway.  And something about it is comforting, and that scares him.  Everything he worked so  hard to be, all in threads at the sound of the young mother five rows ahead of him singing softly in Tagalog to her little boy.

He’s been so angry and so sick  in himself for the months since the accident that relaxing feels wrong. But the air here smells right–the second he steps off the plane it’s like he fills up a pair of lungs that have been gasping for a decade. How stressful it is, to feel better and hate yourself for feeling better.  

He walks the roads his mama took him on thirty years ago, and they’re busier than they were, the cars are louder, but the sameness of it all is dizzying. He checks the paper his mother gave him, the names and the addresses, and loathing himself he goes to an acupuncturist, to a reiki master, to practitioner after practitioner, and he hates them. I’m a doctor,  I’m a doctor, these people are all quacks and fucking idiots. he thinks, but his heart is in rags and his hands are twisted on each other like the nightmares of an arthritic, and so he goes.

Imagine, when he finally finds the Ancient One. Imagine that the Ancient One has his great-grandmother’s eyes, that the language the Ancient One speaks is the one Strange learned at his mama’s knee and threw away.  Imagine that the Ancient One–female or male–is dark of skin, wears their traditional clothing as casually as Strange wears a T-shirt, offers Strange a bowl of adobo and the steam rising off of it it smells just like it always did…

Imagine Strange coming full circle, back to his roots, back to the place in himself that he’s ignored and beaten down for all these years. Imagine him looking at the history that belongs to him and claiming it. Imagine him being still, yes, American. But honest to himself. No longer fighting to be white, no longer fighting to play by the rules of white people, recognizing that there’s power where he came from and it belongs to him. Imagine what it it feels like, to have that sudden knowledge opening inside your chest, to have the shame over your dark skin and your narrow wrists and your almond eyes washed away by certainty and confidence and a clean pride that bears no resemblance to the ego of the master surgeon.

But no.  We’re getting fucking Cumberbatch.

And don’t even get me started on Tilda Swinton…

Hollywood has no idea what to do with Asian people. And, given the fact that Hollywood often serves as a reflection of contemporary culture, this is a major problem. Aside from casting us as goofy comic relief (Long Duk Dong, really) or evil mystical ninjas (come on, Daredevil season 2), they just don’t know what to do with us. The confusion and ignorance around what we bring to the table sometimes gets so bad that rather than try and find out who we actually are, they’ll overwrite us with white characters, erasing us completely from narratives that inherently belong to one culture or another (looking at you, Ghost in the Shell).

Marvel’s Doctor Strange Teaser Trailer