A couple weeks ago Marvel Studios released the first teaser trailer for Doctor Strange, which provided fans our first look at Tilda Swinton’s turn as The Ancient One, a character traditionally depicted as Tibetan in Marvel comic books. The footage, paired with the first images of Scarlett Johansson in the film adaptation of anime Ghost in the Shell, sparked controversy online about “whitewashing” characters that were ethnic in their original source material. Most recent examples of films that received negative backlash for this stunt are Gods of Egypt, The Last Airbender, and The Lone Ranger, all of which did poorly at the box office.
C. Robert Cargill, writer of Doctor Strange, sat down with his friends at Double Toasted and revealed the thought process behind changing the Ancient One’s ethnicity.
“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.”
Cargill raises some understandable points. The Ancient One is arguably an outdated character that was a racial stereotype back when he was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the pages of “Strange Tales #110,” released in July 1963. We live in a much more multicultural world today, if there is room to update a character and prevent upsetting the Chinese market and engaging political clashes, that is a good thing.
Tilda Swinton recently addressed the controversy surrounding her casting. Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige has also explained that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Ancient One is a title that many people have had. A clever way of not dismissing the possibility that The Ancient One was once a Tibetan man at some point in the MCU.
What do you think of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One? Are you open minded to giving her a chance, or are you sill bent on Marvel changing the character’s race? Chime in and tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!