There’s been some talk over the issue of a character in the upcoming Dr Strange adaptation that is being “white-washed” (for lack of a better term) not because of an inherent racism within Marvel, but rather due to apparent pressure from the Chinese government.
The character is Tibetan.
Anyone with a good sense of history in Asian politics knows that there has been turmoil between China and its occupation of Tibet for many many years.
I am not here to debate that topic. I am here to debate whether Marvel is right or wrong for bowing to Chinese pressure. The answer to that lies in where one sees where Marvel’s moral obligations lie.
So open the floodgates of opinionated views on this topic.
Marvel is at it’s core, a for-profit company. That’s right, their top priority is to make money. And they did so by pushing out content that starting in the form of comic books. Then they licensed the rights of those characters out to movie studios and other companies to expand that content. Then they struck out on their own in the movie realm. And the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe for those not in the know… god, do I have to spell it out for you people?) is a hit. Arguably it is the biggest fracking hit in the movies right now making Disney and Marvel assloads of cash.
And one of the markets that they make money in is China. For those who don’t know, China is a totalitarian leaning socialist government. That means that the government pretty much controls what the Chinese people get to do or get to see. Meaning, that if Marvel doesn’t play nice, it will see it’s movies blocked out of the Chinese cinema.
Now I am not a big Dr Strange fan. I never read his comics, although I was aware of who he is. So I don’t know the importance of this character in that sphere or what role the character’s cultural heritage is to the story.
As a writer, I would personally feel that changing any component of a character after the fact to appease public pressure is wrong. As the content creator, I feel a moral obligation to stick to the spirit of the story, meaning all characters are who they are. If the Chinese (or another) government says that they don’t like character X because of Y reason, I have full ability to tell them to go fuck themselves up a tree. But then I will have to accept the fallout. Being not-for-profit in my case (let’s be real… I want to make money, I am just not at this time, so my views may or may not change here) I can easily accept that my choice might damage my ability to make money on my craft. But I am a single person. I feed my family and myself.
Marvel is a corporation with a lot of families to feed… and a mouse that is pretty damn power hungry. Sure, Mickey looks cute and docile right now… but wait until the quarterly profit earnings come in.
Marvel also has an obligation to their fans as a whole. Fans make Marvel its money. This includes the Chinese fans. If Marvel decided to stay firm on the character backstory and China decides that they no longer want Marvel shown in China, who does that really harm? It harms the fans in China is who it harms.
But bowing to China’s request doesn’t really harm anyone here. It might hurt someone’s emotions, make them angry or upset. It might harm the credibility for a short time of those executives in the eyes of the fans. None of that actually matters when compared against a group who risk not even being allowed to see it otherwise…
Think about that.