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.

READ: Want to learn more about John Constantine on screen? Click here!

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.


One Comment

  1. Zoe F

    December 8, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    This whole article just shows how ignorant you are.
    Diversifying it? Ok, just because Samuel L. Jackson is Nick Fury- that doesn’t really prove anything, because the main cast of the Avengers- every single one of them is white. So yeah, we get people like him for Nick Fury and Anthony Mackie for Falcon and Don Cheadle as Rhodes and Chiwetel Ejiofor for Mordo, but have you noticed that they only act as supporting roles? Falcon and Mordo and Rhodes are just the black best friend to the white protagonists in the story. What exactly do we know about their characters? We hardly know anything about their origins or backstories.
    As for Tilda Swinton being the Ancient One, yes, we all know she’s an amazing actress. However, she should not have had this role. If the directors thought it was too stereotypical for an East Asian person to play- well, you could’ve gotten a brown Asian! Have you not noticed that the Ancient One lives in Nepal?!
    Additionally, it seems as if you are implying that there just aren’t enough talented Asian actors/ actresses out there by saying that the only way The Ancient One could have been seen as an important character in the whole frickin’ movie was if he/she were played by 1. A man who’s been dead for years or 2. Jackie Chan. I have nothing against them, but what bothers me is that you seem to think that Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan are the only Asian actors that exist.
    Also, just so you know, a Dragon Lady is a stereotype for Asian females that portray them to be “aggressive or opportunistic sexual beings.” I don’t know about you, but to my knowledge, the Ancient One was never portrayed to be a sexual being. When the director said that “The first decision that I made was to make it a woman. . . but when I envisioned that character being played by an Asian actress, it was a straight-up Dragon Lady” (Derrickson), that actually told people a lot. By a lot, a mean a lot about his mindset. If you’re a director, isn’t it your job to introduce these old characters who we’ve seen a thousand times before to an audience, but make them so that we can still be interested? It’s like how the actor is supposed to bring the role to life. So really, casting Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One was not a good choice. It wasn’t only about diversity in the movie, it was about REPRESENTATION. Which reminds me- we should talk about you thinking that the MCU is so diverse- what other Asian people are in the Marvel movies? Let’s see:
    1. Wong from Doctor Strange
    Um, the director thought the Ancient One was a stereotype? Well, what about Wong? He’s the PERFECT example of the serious-Asian-who-doesn’t-get-jokes stereotype, and not only that, but he’s been placed in the role of “the best friend.” He doesn’t have much use in the movie.
    2. Ned from Spiderman Homecoming
    Oh, look! It’s another one of those nerdy Asian guy’s who’s really good at technology but also really socially awkward! And oh, it’s also another one of those stereotypes!
    3. Mantis from GoTG 2
    Here is a submissive and obedient character played by an Asian female. She’s like some sort of servant, or like that China Doll/ Lotus Flower STEREOTYPE that’s been perpetuated so much to the point that you get adult white males- grown men, they’re supposed to be- catcalling to twelve year-old Asian females by saying stuff like “Nihao, sweetheart!”
    Yeah, sure. There are DEFINITELY not any stereotypes in the MCU, none at all! Or perhaps there are, but we’ll just pretend they don’t exist, shall we?

    How about no.

    What we SHOULD pretend is that you’re smarter than this, and that you’ll take a sit, Alisdair. This ISN’T a topic that YOU should be writing about. Not if you’re going to go about it the way that you did.


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