‘Doctor Strange’ Director Scott Derrickson Addresses Whitewashing Debate

Doctor Strange

Scott Derrickson, director of Marvel’s magic trip Doctor Strange, understands why people are upset about Tilda Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One – a Tibetan monk in the comics – in the upcoming film. Via his Twitter account, he addressed the ongoing controversy about the decision and in doing so set a gold standard for respectfulness and patience in a difficult position.

Instead of being defensive about all the reasons why the Ancient One had to be a white woman (which is what the official Marvel statement did), Derrickson approached the concerns and hurt of others with poise and openness. Instead of dismissing concerns, he acknowledged them, displayed humility and promised to improve. It’s impressive (as far as Tweets go).

Here’s what Marvel had to say earlier:

“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.”

The film’s screenwriter C. Robert Cargill and national treasure George Takei also recently weighed in with their perspectives on the Ancient One casting decision, with the issues of racial sensitivity, Chinese box office receipts and the political situation regarding Tibet all playing a part that yielded Swinton’s casting.

Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular superhero, hits theaters November 4.

(via CBR)

Sam Flynn

Sam Flynn

Sam is a writer and journalist whose passion for pop culture burns with the fire of a thousand suns and at least three LED lamps.

  • Jeff Forehand

    It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Derrickson’s response is probably the best that you could give, given the circumstances.

    • capwulf

      Not really. There is no quota on Asians in cinema. You could have a Wong and an Asian Ancient One in the same film. Marvel was wrong.I do appreciate Derrickson’s response. I hope restitution is made.

      • chaburchak

        Restitution?

        • capwulf

          Restitution:
          1. The restoration of something lost or stolen to its proper owner
          2. Recompense for injury or loss
          3.The restoration of something to its original state
          Is that not clear enough? Dictionaries don’t bite.

          • chaburchak

            Oh I wasn’t confused as to the definition…just the notion someone thinks they’re owed restitution over a superhero movie. If that’s the case, I need to speak to somebody about that last Fantastic Four movie…

          • capwulf

            Over the continued marginalization of Asians in cinema. Don’t be obtuse.

      • Math

        If the role is technically Tibetan, wouldn’t casting any Asian non-Tibetan actor technically as racist as casting a white person in the role? So if you really want to be fair, they should be looking exclusively for a Tibetan actor, not any Asian actor. Anybody know any good Tibetan actors?

        • capwulf

          I think you knew that was dumb when you typed it.
          But if I was to take your ignorant, tone deaf comment at face value, the answer to your first question would be no.
          I think you need a beginner’s course on the difference between race and nationality.
          If you could come back when that is completed, then I will be more than happy to entertain your ham-fisted attempts at insight.

          • Math

            I was obviously being sarcastic. My point is where is the limit? Where does this stop? Feminists were happy that they added more female roles in a male dominated genre but now Asians are outraged. Had they casted an Asian, then the complaint would be another stereotypical role. I’m surprised the LGBT aren’t complaining they are not represented either. All this debate of whitewashing is valid, but this movie already has a lot of diversity in it. Let me ask you this: had they cast a black actor for the ancient one, would people still complain about it? It would still be removing an Asian role, but at least it wouldn’t be whitewashing.

            What I believe is that unless there is a very specific reason to select a specific race, $ex or $exual orientation for a character, you just hire the best talent you can get for the role.

            Just a thought, but maybe it seems like there aren’t that many Asian roles because maybe there simply isn’t that many great English speaking Asian actors? I’m not saying there is none, I’m just wondering if maybe there aren’t that many of them? If a few Asian actors would have the same charisma and acting chops as a Leonardo DiCaprio or a Michel Fasbender or whatever great actor you love, I’m sure Hollywood would go out of their way to create roles for these actors.

            I know it’s a chicken and egg thing where there need to be opportunities for them to show off they have the chops to pull off these type of roles, but that’s true of any actor or actress. There are great Caucasian actors who aren’t getting good roles in Hollywood either. It’s hard to break into this business. There aren’t that many roles period.

            People nowadays believe these jobs and opportunities are owed to them right off the bat, but that’s not how life works. You have to earn it. Sure, some people have easier times finding these opportunities then others and that’s always going to be true, but this belief that these Hollywood people go out of their way to cast white actors is ridiculous. They simply chose the best available talent. Most of those happen to be white right now.

            I’m not saying everything is right in Hollywood. We are talking about people who keeps regurgitating the same formula over and over again. If you don’t want to deviate from your formula too much, obviously you are going to keep going through the same pool of people you already know and trust. Breaking into this circle of trust is hard and they need to create more opportunities for outsiders to prove they can also be trusted to deliver the goods. Like anyone else, if they work hard, use independent resources to create their own opportunities and put their work out there… if they are really talented, someone somewhere who is part of that circle of trust will notice them and will give them an opportunity.

          • capwulf

            “People nowadays believe these jobs and opportunities are owed to them right off the bat, but that’s not how life works. You have to earn it. Sure, some people have easier times finding these opportunities then others and that’s always going to be true, but this belief that these Hollywood people go out of their way to cast white actors is ridiculous. They simply chose the best available talent. Most of those happen to be white right now.”

            This paragraph illustrates your ignorance better than I ever could.

          • Cheng “hemahemahema07” He

            To be fair, Dichen Lachman could have played the role, sort of, she was born in Nepali and has Tibetan ancestry. However:

            1) Tilda Swinton is a better actress than Dichen Lachman;

            2) Dichen Lachman already played a role in the MCU, she is the mother of Daisy Johnson/Skye on Agents of SHIELD. She is an inhuman villain serving as the primary antagonist for the second season and she died in the finale. So that’s that.

        • Fate Jacket X

          Jesus Christ no, because at least that person would look the part and represent a culture effectively. Would you really cast Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of Black Panther?

          • Cheng “hemahemahema07” He

            No, that will keep certain people happy. Other people will then be upset for different reasons.

            And just to be clear, getting a Chinese person to represent Tibetan culture is akin to getting a German to represent the Polish culture…in 1943, after Germany invaded Poland.

          • Fate Jacket X

            Of course I disagree (this is, after all, a disagree marathon here) i think it’s more like getting John Turturro to play an Italian in one movie and a Jewish person in another – which he’s done well. It seems that, in your world, you’re saying it’s cinematically feasible for, say, Denzel Washington to play the Italian or the Jewish person. Which would be fine if there was a good enough story to those ideas. But the Ancient One has a story already and Marvel has chosen to tell it strangely.

          • Cheng “hemahemahema07” He

            They changed the background of Ancient One to Celtic. Otherwise China would be upset with them for the Dalai-Lama imagery alone.

      • Cheng “hemahemahema07” He

        Chinese here. “Math” is right, there’s more sensitive issues at play here.

        As far as the Chinese government is concerned, Tibet is part of China, and honestly many Chinese people would agree. What this means is that casting a non-Chinese Asian would cause a lot of displeasure from the the Chinese. On top of that there is animosity between China and many other Asian countries Korean, Japanese, Indian, Thai, you name it, China as some sort of beef with them. I can go into details if you want but I must warn you, that way lies madness.

        So you cast a Chinese actor or actress, what’s the problem? Well, for that we need to consider the answer to a different question: why is Tibet part of China? That’s because in the years 1950-51, the People’s Liberation Army INVADED Tibet and annexed it into the People’s Republic of China. So there’s this Tibetan guy, you might have heard of him, called the Dalai Lama, who is traditionally the spiritual leader of Tibet. He attempted to take back control in 1959 by staging a coup. When that failed he and his government is forced into exile, and they still exist today in the form of Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). Many people in the west are sympathetic towards the CTA and it even receives funding, if not recognition from western governments.

        So, sure, you can cast a Chinese as a Tibetan person, but it will just look like you are sucking up to the Chinese government because believe me, no one will think you are being culturally sensitive, and you’d be kicking a larger nest of hornets than you can possibly imagine. Yes, you can try to justify your casting by holding a political debate on the legitimacy of this occupation, that government, and those people’s independence and argue for months if not years, but let’s assume when you set out to make a film in which Benedict Cumberbatch does cool things with magic, this is not what you had in mind.

        So to completely avoid controversy, there is one, and only one solution: cast a Tibetan currently living in China and has Chinese Citizenship. So I must repeat Math’s question here, since he didn’t get an answer: Anybody know any good Tibetan actors?

        • capwulf

          You wanted to give a Tibetan hisory lesson so badly that you totally ignored the point.

          The Ancient One scenes take place in Nepal. The Tibet stuff is not present in the movie at all.
          That was a strawman that Marvel erected, and it is obviously working.
          Once you remove China and Tibet from the equation you can do whatever you want.

          • Cheng “hemahemahema07” He

            Yeah, if they ignore the history of the character, they can do whatever they want, like changing the character to Celtic and cast an Anglo-Scottish actress for a character who’s always been male in the comics.

            But if you want to cast a minority base on the character’s history, who’s always been Tibetan, then, once again: Anybody know any good Tibetan actors?

          • Cheng “hemahemahema07” He

            You want to fight real cases of whitewashing? The casting of caucasian

          • capwulf

            All you are saying is irrelevant. Ancient One could be written as a good non stereotypical Asian character.

          • Cheng “hemahemahema07” He

            So can literally every character in every film, if you are willing to ignore source material.

          • capwulf

            I respect your opinion but what is wrong with having as much opportunity as possible? Correct I g whitewashing in those films doesn’t preclude you from casting an Asian Ancient One.

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    • Fate Jacket X

      Probably, and it’s better than Marvel’s bullshit release. Still, this should not have happened. Filmmakers do moves like this because, as certain numbers dictate, whiteness sells. But Marvel prints their own money! They don’t need backers like other clowns do. They could’ve hired appropriately with no skin off their noses.

  • Carl

    If feel like Marvel is just thinking, wait until you see Wong be a badass in the next trailer.