Is Tilda Swinton‘s casting as the Tibetan Ancient One in ‘Doctor Strange’ another case of Hollywood whitewashing? That’s what some are charging. True, in the comics, the mystical mentor of the Sorcerer Supreme is an aged Asian man, but does that mean that Marvel Studios has to remain THAT faithful? Well, they obviously aren’t.
C. Robert Cargill, the screenwriter for ‘Doctor Strange’ referred to the casting of the Ancient One as an unwinnable situation, saying:
“The thing about the Ancient One is it is Marvel’s Kobayashi Maru. There is no other character in Marvel history that is such a cultural landmine, that is absolutely unwinnable. I’ve been reading a bunch of people talking about it and the really frustrating thing about it this week is that most of the people who have thoughts on it haven’t thought it all the way through and they go, ‘Why didn’t they just do this?’ And it’s like, I could tell you why. I could tell you why every single decision that involves the Ancient One is a bad one, and just like the Kobayashi Maru, it all comes down on which way you’re willing to lose.
The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in a very weird political place. He originates from Tibet, so if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that’s bulls**t and risk the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.’ If we decide to go the other way and cater to China in particular and have him be in Tibet… if you think it’s a good idea to cast a Chinese actress as a Tibetan character, you are out of your damn fool mind and have no idea what the f**k you’re talking about.”
For her part, Swinton stated:
“The script that I was presented with did not feature an Asian man for me to play, so that was never a question when I was being asked to do it. It all will be revealed when you see the film, I think. There are very great reasons for us to feel very settled and confident with the decisions that were made.”
Marvel has finally addressed the issue, saying:
Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU to life. The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic. We are very proud to have the enormously talented Tilda Swinton portray this unique and complex character alongside our richly diverse cast.
Look at the ‘Thor’ movies. In the comics, all Asgardians are Caucasian, but in the films, they are more diverse. Hogun is Asian (played by Tadanobu Asano) and Heimdall is black (Idris Elba). And it’s rumored that Tessa Thompson, who is also black, may be playing Valkyrie, a character depicted as Caucasian in the comics.
As an Asian American, I am NOT losing sleep over not seeing another wise, old Asian martial artist/sorcerer on the big screen. You can have that, Tilda. (Do NOT get me started on the “beloved” ‘Karate Kid’ movies.)
So what do you think? Is this more Hollywood whitewashing? Or are you willing to give the brilliant Tilda Swinton a chance?
‘Doctor Strange’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benedict Wong, and Mads Mikkelsen materializes in theaters on November 4, 2016.
Seriously, don’t get Jason started on the whole ‘Karate Kid’ thing. But you can follow him on Twitter if you want.