There’s a lot to be excited for in ‘Doctor Strange’. Another entry in the MCU. A fantastic ensemble. A chance for Marvel to get weirder with its mythos and explore the mystic and magical. On the whole, fans seem to be looking forward to the Scott Derrickson-directed Marvel film. But there’s one thing that’s stuck in people’s craw about this movie – the casting of Tilda Swinton as Strange’s mentor, The Ancient One. In the comics, The Ancient One is generally depicted as an elderly Asian man. People are certainly excited about a bounty of talent like Swinton being added to the MCU. What’s less exciting for many is a white actress taking a role that could’ve been given to an Asian actor/actress, especially as the need for diversity grows. Ever since the first trailer dropped in April, controversy has surrounded the film, with Marvel being accused of “white-washing”.
Many involved with the film have spoken on this issue. Marvel put out a press release that described “The Ancient One” as a mantle passed down to various people. Director Scott Derrickson went on Twitter to say that, in response to the anger, he is “listening and learning”. Co-writer C. Robert Cargill talked in an interview at length about the various obstacles that come with casting a character like the Ancient One. Even Swinton herself has talked about it, saying she was never asked to play an Asian character. ‘Doctor Strange‘ is featured in EW‘s Fall Movie Preview, and in it, Swinton once again discussed the controversy.
“Anybody calling for more accurate representation of the diverse world we live in has got me standing right beside them. I think when people see this film, they’re going to see that it comes from a very diverse place, in all sorts of ways. Maybe this misunderstanding around this film has been an opportunity for that voice to be heard, and I’m not against that at all. But I do think that when people see the film, they’ll see that it’s not necessarily a target for that voice.”
The character of Doctor Strange, much like Iron Fist, The Shadow, and many pulp figures, inhabits a tricky cultural realm. He was very much a byproduct of the “exotic” Oriental fascination older pop culture had, and under a modern lens, that comes across as problematic. Under that same lens, it’s hard not to view The Ancient One as a poorly outdated stereotype. Whether Marvel made the right call with this character is certainly debatable. However, I’m glad Swinton and many involved are upfront about discussing these issues, and it’s an important conversation to have. Hopefully, once the movie is out, we can continue that conversation further.
Marvel’s Doctor Strange follows the story of the talented neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange who, after a tragic car accident, must put ego aside and learn the secrets of a hidden world of mysticism and alternate dimensions. Based in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Doctor Strange must act as an intermediary between the real world and what lies beyond, utilizing a vast array of metaphysical abilities and artifacts to protect the Marvel cinematic universe.
‘Doctor Strange‘ stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, and of course, Tilda Swinton. It’s directed by Scott Derrickson and will open on November 4th.