Yesterday, I had the pleasure of going to see the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) newest film, DOCTOR STRANGE. Not being a typical Marvel comic reader, I was happy with the film; I thought Benedict Cumberbatch was great, the story was solid, and I thought Tilda Swinton did a terrific job as the Ancient One. Soon after I returned from viewing the film, I went online to see what others had thought about the film and what I found surprised me. People were complaining about the fact that the Ancient One wasn’t being played by a Tibetan man. I mean seriously? Sorry to be late to the party about this, but I think that’s utter nonsense. There obviously has been a lot of controversy surrounding this film in particular, but Marvel has always had a great track record of casting the right person for the role, regardless of race, and their films have always been a success as a result.


First things first, let’s take a look at Tilda Swinton. The woman is a phenomenal actress. She has played women, she has played men, she’s even played a gender neutral character, Gabriel, in the 2005 film CONSTANTINE. She’s performed in films, plays, and guest starred on television shows. She’s won award after award, including acting’s highest prize, an Oscar. Suffice to say, her acting prowess is up to snuff. This film was no different, as she killed it as the Ancient One. And that has been Marvel’s motif since it started making films; find the best person for the job. That why you see Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in the MCU. That’s why you saw Michael Clarke Duncan in both the film DAREDEVIL and in the cartoon THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN as Kingpin. Marvel Studios clearly doesn’t care what a character’s skin color or sex is in the comics. They mold the character to fit their narrative, and if they find an actor or actress that they think can perform a role, they’ll change the character to fit the actor.

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Now, I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t acknowledge the alleged issue surrounding the casting of someone other than a Tibetan man for this film. The story goes that allegedly,  the studio did this so that the film would get approval to be be shown in China. Firstly, I do not believe that. Not because I’m trying to defend this film, but because the director/writer of the film has gone on record saying that he always wanted the Ancient One to be a woman. So I’ll take him at his word. That being said, if this story was true, it’s not like the studio just did what a lot of other studios could have done in that situation and hired some random white male to play the part. They honored the character and diversified the cast by getting an Oscar-winning actress to play the part. By casting someone with Swinton’s acting abilities to play the character, you’re telling your audience “This character is important”. If Marvel Studios was in such a situation, how could they have done any better? Should they have resurrected Bruce Lee?  Insulted the Tibetan people by inserting a Chinese national like Jackie Chan into the role? If this Chinese government assertion is true, Marvel did a fantastic job with the hand they were dealt. And while the  potential circumstances around the hiring might have angered some, the fact remains that China is a market that no film studio can afford to miss out on.

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So there it is. Personally I don’t buy the argument that Swinton’s character is whitewashing. In fact, it seems to me as though the writers of DOCTOR STRANGE were avoiding controversy by not turning the character into a dragon lady. A dragon lady for those who don’t know is a western stereotype of Asian women, specifically those who can be seen as strong, deceitful, domineering or mysterious. I honestly don’t know how I would describe a female Ancient One better, so in that case it was probably the smart thing to do to make the character not Asian. Couple that with the potential issue of the Chinese government’s requirements and you have the best of a tainted situation. One thing is for sure however,  Tilda Swinton was fantastic in her portrayal, and there wasn’t anyone out there who could have done it better.



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