Marvel Studios Says Iron Man 3 Villain The Mandarin Isn't Chinese, He's International

Iron Man 3 The Mandarin

When Entertainment Weekly posted an exclusive photo of actor Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, the super-villain who rocks Tony Stark's world in the upcoming Iron Man 3, it resurrected a thorny question around the virtual office here.   In the Marvel universe, the Mandarin is the son of one of pre-Revolutionary China's wealthiest men and an English noblewoman, as well as a descendant of Ghengis Khan.  So, why, as Executive Editor Jen Yamato wondered when news broke that Ben Kingsley would play him, did the job go to a half-Indian, half-English actor?  

The answer, according to Marvel Studios Kevin Feige, appears near the bottom of the EW post.  As a villain, it turns out, the Mandarin is kind of a mutt. According to EW,  Feige says Marvel "wanted to blur the background" of the Mandarin portrayed in Iron Man 3. “It’s less about his specific ethnicity than the symbolism of various cultures and iconography that he perverts for his own end,”  Feige explained. "  As the EW's Anthony Breznican further explained:  "From his samurai hair, to his royal robe, to his bin Laden-esque beard, and the AK-47 he keeps at his side, Kingsley’s interpretation is a hodgepodge of various warrior motifs." That way, no single ethnicity, particularly one with a population of 1.3 billion, can be offended by Kingsley's portrayal or his character's evil doing.

Please feel free to weigh in on the debate. Or, if you just want to look at pretty pictures. USA Today also posted some exclusive shots  from the film. Here are a couple:

Iron Man 3 The Mandarin

Iron Man 3 The Mandarin

[EW, USA Today]

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  • Robbo says:

    The Mandarin is a fictional character invented by a very creative white man. Ben Kingsley is one hell of an actor. As long as the storyline is strong, Ben will be great and there is nothing for anyone but the most easily offended to have issue over.

    Ben is decidedly shorter that the Mandarin of the comics who is very tall. But at the end od the day, so what? Wolverine suddenly became six foot four in the movies, when in the comics he is five foot five. The comic purists will have to learn to live with these from comic to film adjustments and just enjoy the ride.

    • John says:

      Says the white guy.

    • Raiden says:

      i'd Rather have an Asian actor on screen playing a stereotype than no Asian actor on screen period.

      This isn't the first time something liuke this has happened a good example is this: George Lucas wanted to cast Toshiro Mifune (one of the greatest Actors of all time by the way) as Obi wan Kenobi. But Fox made him change it. Why? Because he was Asian, an Asian playing an old master was viewed as "Stereotypical".

      If Asians cant even get stereotypical roles in movies anymore, then there might as well not be Asians in hollywood film period.

      • Carlo says:

        My thoughts exactly Raiden. Its called the bamboo ceiling. Bruce Lee wanted to play the lead role in the Kung Fu series, but the white guy in charge didnt think so. So they cast an "asian-looking" white guy in David Carradine to play the lead role instead. If Bruce Lee wanted to play an Asian role on tv he'd have to go to Hong Kong to do it. The same shit happened decades later with Asian characters and asian stories (and I mean EAST and SOUTHEAST Asians, you know, "Orientals"), In Dragonball Revolution, 21, The Last Airbender, and now, Ironman 3! I mean, this isn't David Carradine's 1970s, its 2013!

        So what if The Mandarin is a flaming Asian stereotype? That didn't stop the white guy who wrote the character from creating him from a legacy of Hollywood Asian Peril stereotypes. And all of a sudden, the casting of The Mandarin is questioned and now, It's a big hoopla about how they would rather be PC about this character?

        I love Ben Kingsley's work as an actor, but clearly his look AND ethnicity does not fit this character. He's Half-Indian, which is SOUTH Asian, The Mandarin is an EAST Asian character. Huge difference. There are so many ethnicities wrapped under the Asian continent, but clearly The Mandarin is an EAST Asian stereotype.

        The sad part is that Asians (EAST asians in this case) cannot even play themselves on film and television still.

  • Brandon Hess says:

    Funny how its so easily accepted to let non-white characters be played by white actors but the minute you hear a movie studio even utter "Black Spiderman", the internet rises up in protest.

    This is the exact same thing as the Lone Ranger having Tonto played by Johnny Depp. I'm sure everyone would be just fine if the next Superman was Japanese because "DC wanted to blur his background given that he's an alien".

    • Rich says:

      Alien... Then shouldn't he be played by a... oh, I won't go there.

      I REALLY don't like the idea of Depp playing Tonto... at all. He is playing a character that is necessarily a native, and is being depicted as so. I think that there are plenty of other actors of native ancestry that could carry the role.

      I had no problem with the choice of MCD as King Pin, because ultimately he fits the bill... King Pin was written to be a white character, but other than the creator's choice, there is nothing specifically white about him.

      Similalry, Elba as Heimdall, didn't seem to be a problem, The characters n the film are not lterally depicted as being from Scandanavia.

      The issue with the Mandarin seems to reside with his name. It is clearly a Chinese reference. But I see no reason to dismiss the notion that a villainous figure wouldn't adopt grandiose features or themes, and call himself the Mandarin... or King... or Emperor, etc...

      • Ernest says:

        Well said. This comment actually made some things come to light for me.

      • Julian says:

        Re: your last point: well, sure but given the cultural connection of "Mandarin" it is at least as odd for a non Chinese villain to call himself "The Mandarin" as it would be for a non-Russian villain to call himself "The Tsar" or a non-Roman themed villain to call himself "Caesar."

      • shirodx says:

        Good comment. Valid points.

        It's sad though that a main character has to be "adjusted" just so as not to piss off people.
        People acting like no one from their background could possibly have the propensity for evil.

      • Isn't Johnny Depp native? I thought he was Cherokee.

        • No. He is white. Having a tiny percentage of another race doesn't qualify. That's like that crap with Taylor Lautner having his miniscule Native American heritage %age pulled up to try and verify him playing Jacob Black who is supposed to be full blooded Native American.

    • Rob Noble says:

      Brandon Hess, I'm going to avoid doing this in ALL CAPS, but you're dead wrong (or possibly/probably a troll):

      a) When and both posted "Why does the next Spiderman have to be White?" articles in the spring of 2010, the internet *jumped* at the chance to declare Communty's Donald Glover the perfect choice for Peter Parker. Within 48 hours "Donald Glover For Spiderman" was a yahoo trending topic and he couldn't go five minutes without being asked about it. To this day, it's still part of his (very autobiographical) stand-up act.

      b) Depp is part-Native American, has always proudly proclaimed this/his heritage, and has tattoos of Sitting Bull on one shoulder and Crazy Horse on the other. Playing Tonto has been his dream role for nearly 20 years.

      c) Superman *was* played by a Japanese-American actor. Dean Cain played him for four seasons on 'Lois & Clark,' and his father was of Japanese descent. Hell, Cain's birth name is Dean George Tanaka.

      d) The character of The Mandarin is half-English, half-Mongolian (and a descendent of Genghis Khan.) Have you seen what actual Mongolians look like? They are genetically and physiologically near-identical to Northwest Canadian First Nation peoples.

      Here's a link:

      To say that the half-Indian Ben Kingsley couldn't play The Mandarin because he's "too white" is utter bullshit. And on second thought, yep, you're totally trolling.

      • shirodx says:

        Good points Rob,

        AND Ben Kingsley is a very good actor.

        At first I was upset that they did choose a traditional Chinese, (Or half) actor, but after looking into it a bit more, it looks like Marvel Studios put some thought into who they would select.

        Regarding the d) points; It does make sense technically. Now knowing that, (The way he's done up he does look as if he's partly of mongol descent.) I do feel good about the choice now.

        I guess the problem is that the Mandarin was all ways drawn traditionally as person of Han Chinese descent.

    • giobravo says:

      They had an asian Superman: Dean Cain is from Hawaii.

    • Man, now I totally want to see a non-white Superman. They should do one of those "what-if" series and write alternate reality Supermans of different ethnicities to see how people treat the character differently in-world depending on his perceived race, because that would be fascinating.

      Of course they're never going to do that because this is DC they're talking about and they don't even get how hiring an infamous anti-gay bigot to write for Supes might be a bad thing, so I doubt they'd be interested in an in depth exploration of systematic racism in American society.

      Although... wasn't there a book recently in which Diana mentions that Superman is incredibly privileged because he is white, male, and handsome, and how that affects the way he does his superhero job as opposed to her? I know I saw a screenshot floating around but I don't remember from where.

  • Stone says:

    Growing up reading allot of Iron Man comics, I was a bit upset The Mandarin wasn't Chinese, but I know Ben Kingsley is a great Actor. I think it's more about the politics of culture and trying not to offend Chinese people by having a supervillan like Mandarin, which is dumb in my opinion, because Mandarin is an Awesome villain! Besides, I've watch Hundreds of Chinese films and Whites have been depicted as villains a bunch of times, it just makes me laugh. In the end, I think he will play it well. Hollywood, stop being scared of making characters true to the Comic.

    By-the-way, I'm a mutt and have over 4 cultures mixed in my blood and I don't care who is who in the films as long as its true to the comic.

  • Andrew K says:

    So basically he's a more politically correct hodgepodge of western xenophobic concerns, instead of a singular one? That's silly. This character, and Ben Kingsley's acting, are the only thing that really concern me about this film.

  • Joe says:

    I understand what everyone's complaint is regarding the race of the character from comic to screen. I agree. BUT what you all are missing is the one thing that made them choose a non Asian recognition i.e. money green! If it don't make dollars, it don't make sense and they're making this movie to make money.

  • choie says:

    You can't say the villain is Chinese, when in the real world you shake hands with these folks and do business with them, can you?

  • mace says:

    Feige's explanation is malarkey. It WAS all about getting a name actor. The truly disheartening thing is that there is no male Asian star they thought famous enough to play this part. And I guarantee you, there are Asians out there who would LOVE to see someone who looks like them in such a major role, whether a villain or not. Imagine a 10-year-old Asian boy (or girl) eagerly sitting in the theater ... and then Sir Ben shows up. When I saw the trailer, even I was offended -- and I'm black.

    • sean says:

      How about Ken Watanabe?
      Although, i don't have a problem with Ben Kingsley either.
      I'm from singapore in south east asia and i'm not offended at all.
      I mean, i'm sure people over here are gonna be a little disappointed.
      Though it is sort of expected of hollywood pull something like that. avatar, dragon ball etc...
      Plus america and china seem to be a little competitive right now in the global market anyway, so i get
      why they could possibly be hesitant to piss the chinese off.
      though maybe i don't feel it, cause i'm from singapore, and the majority are chinese, and if i were a minority, maybe it would change how i felt about this.
      Also, if everyone keeps saying asian, ben kingsley is half asian! yes indians are asian.
      in fact it's kind of weird calling people asian really. asia's a very varied continent and not a country.
      if everyone's referring to chinese, then yes, that makes sense.
      anyway, there are definitely asian actors who could've easily fit that role and give it justice,
      though having said that Ben Kingsley is a great actor: but maybe he should've kept the beard trimmed? the old trimmed facial hair made him look like the mandarin better.

      • Carlo says:

        Yes, they should also mention that Kingsley is of SOUTH Asian descent, and clearly the Mandarin is of EAST Asian descent. BIIIIIIIIG Difference. Its just like saying an Italian is the same as an Irish, just because they are both Europeans.

  • I think, "not being racist" is the new racist. lol He'll do a great job, so yeah it's aight. 🙂

  • On the one hand, I like that it seems that they're looking to make a characters that's villified FOR his cultural appropriation, what with that whole him lifting the "symbolism of various cultures and iconography that he perverts for his own end."

    On the other hand, East Asian characters are SO underrepresented in Hollywood, and yeah Kingsley is part Indian but he presents as white and is offered a lot of white roles, which is a luxury many East Asian actors don't have.

    So while it's nice that they're not going the full Cloud Atlas yellowface here, I'm still pretty disappointed. It might not detract from my enjoyment of the film while I'm watching it, but I'm never going to be happy with it.

  • Does this make me, as a mixed-ethnicity English/Chinese person, "international" too? I don't care that Ben Kingsley's not Chinese at all - he's there because he's a good actor and a big name. I'm fine with that.

    I'm not fine with erasing a character's ethnic identity for stupid reasons like this. So what if he does awful things. He's the villain. What did we expect? Disappointed.

  • adamjlane says:

    damn who has the number for the whambulance cause there is a lot of titty baby's and criers here lol
    if you dont like it dont watch it,but we all know the people crying about this will still go watch it 🙂

  • 9sky_ says:

    "That way, no single ethnicity, particularly one with a population of 1.3 billion, can be offended by Kingsley's portrayal or his character's evil doing."

    OR he can potentially offend EVERYONE.

  • JuX says:

    You know how many good asian actors there are out there who could play the mandarin? Neither do I cause we never get leading roles. If you can name ten movies besides Bruce Lee where an asian is lead, plays his own race, or an asian isn't played by a white actor I'll shut my mouth and go fuck myself.

    • J. Morris says:

      Since you said 'Asian', I'll just use these. They might not be from China
      1)Hard Boiled.-- Chow Yun-Fat
      2)Infernal Affairs -- Andy Lau
      3)Any Jet Li Movie -- Jet Li
      4)Lust Caution -- Tony Leung
      5)Romeo Must Die/Dim Sum Funeral - - Russell Wong
      6)Any Jackie Chan movie -- Jackie Chan
      7)The Unbroken -- Ken Watanabe
      8)Harold and Kumar - - John Cho
      9)The Cheat - - Sessue Hayakawa
      10) Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior - - Tony Jaa

      What do I win?

      • Michael says:

        I think he means Asians playing roles in American Movies, not leading roles in their own respective countries:

        Ong-Bak is a Thai movie
        Hard Boiled and Internal Affairs are both hong kong movies
        The Unbroken is a Japanese movie
        Jackie Chan and Jet Li were famous in china and known for their martial arts.. which is the only largely why they are successful in the U.S.
        Russell Wong was a supporting role in Romeo Must Die.. Jet Li was the starring role.

  • Jayson Graham says:

    Everyone is missing the point. There are very few new stories to tell in Hollywood. That is why they have "partnered" with Marvel and DC and are retelling 20 to 50 year old plot lines for the "Big" screen. I will NOT be seeing Iron Man 3. They have an opportunity to paint a story with one of four main Chinese Philosophies and I would bet a year's salary they haven't done it. We need more new stories like Harry Potter. Hollywood will never change. They want a sure thing. We have to create our own heroes that are proud of their ethnic background. Then move them to the "Big" screen ourselves. "Create a Story. Create a Following. Create a Movement."

  • Michael says:

    Ben Kingsley's a great actor like everyone states.. I loved him in Gandhi and Schindler's list. I'm sure he will do a great job and I have nothing but respect for the man.
    But I have to say, it's just like hollywood to make movies of comics/cartoons and make such drastic changes. I think Ken Watanabe or Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (the guy that played Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat) would have made a great Mandarin. Who cares if they'll be portraying a bad guy? I just hate it when hollywood casts an actor to play a part when he/she looks nothing like the original. There's too many movies to name where they cast caucasian or half-caucasian actors to play roles of Asian characters.
    When I heard they were making a live action movie of Bleach I already knew it was going to be another DBZ and Avatar the last airbender...

    • Ren Stimpey says:

      Only the Japanese should be allowed to do a live-action Bleach film. Zenbon sakura kageyoshi...GUNDAM could be done by anyone since it's not exactly an Asian only setting. But GUNDAM's for another thread. Bleach though...bloody westerners

  • Ron Morris says:

    1.3 Billion people can still be offended, regardless of his ethnic non-specific hair and clothing because his name is THE MANDARIN!! DERP!!!

  • Satan says:

    USA fears

  • Jiang Ze says:

    As Chinese,we can think that as a postive way,American are keeping endlessly worrying.U know.

  • BB says:

    I came across a comment on a different site that, in my opinion, hit the nail on the head. This movie is a Chinese co-production so that it won't be subject to China's quota system for foreign movies. Obviously, China is a big market for movies right now so the makers want this movie to be shown in China. Had they cast the Mandarin as an ethnic Chinese, then the movie would likely run into trouble with China's censors for depicting Chinese in an unfavourable manner. This was also the reason why scenes were cut from the Chinese release of Pirates of the Caribbean 3, even though those scenes took place in Singapore. So ironically, in this case the reason a a non-Chinese person was cast may well be because of the Chinese authorities being averse to such a casting.

  • FIZZ says:

    Exactly BB, it's China's censoring. They have, in the recent years been lining hollywood producers pockets. Like the new Red Dawn, was supposed to be China invading. China pressured them into changing it into North Korea. Lets be honest, this is propoganda plain and simple and I doubt anyone will ever see a Chinese villain again as long as China's interest in American movies and media continue.

    • Jayson Graham says:

      Then BB and Fizz, wouldn't be easier to not do a story with Mandarin. Use another of the many, many Iron Man villains in the Marvel Universe. It is thin and flimsy excuse. They are spending their money to make it so they can do what they want but I can also decide where I will spend my money and also use social media to encourage others not to spend their money as well.

  • Ren Stimpey says:

    Donnie Yen would have made an ideal Mandarin. He's a great actor and brilliant martial artist. See his work in "Ip Man".

  • Chris says:

    Well even though Ben Kingsley isn't actually the Mandarin in the movie, I guess it still sucks that he (the actual actor) was of Caucasian decent. (strictly for authenticity purposes) Plus the Caucasian actor who was actually the Mandarin never wore or used any rings which The Mandarin was notorious for. I loved the series but they completely bombed on the story line of Iron Man 3.

  • Mr. Guy says:

    @Rob Noble

    Sorry, but what you're saying is bullsh*t. To touch on your points.

    A.).It's not the "internet community", especially a specific one in charge of who plays who. It's Hollywoods job, producers, and the industry. And Spiderman would never in a million years be black, even if his character is white. Ever.
    B.) If Kelly Tips got a tattoo of Malcom X, would that give her ability to play Rosa Parks? Answer= no.
    C.) First, funny how you mention Dean Cain had to change his name for Hollywood. Second, he looks white, which is the point.
    D.) I love Ben Kingsley, adore him even. he'll do a fantastic job. Again, beside the point. You're reaching, and far. The character he portrays looks nothing like him.

  • Chen Li Quian says:

    These damn White people. I'm Chinese and I wished the Mandarin was played by a Chinese actor or even a . Iron Man 3 would've been a better film then.

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