Doctor Strange, a film about a superhero wizard that protects the world from interdimensional peril, is hitting theaters this November. This may be the surest proof yet that Marvel Studios has won the trust of the average moviegoer. But operating within the eye of the pop culture storm also tends to set you square in the crossfire of larger cultural discussions. One such current discussion revolves around the longstanding lack of ethnic diversity in our entertainment.
Legendary actress Tilda Swinton (Hail, Caesar!) found herself at the center of this discussion when she was cast as The Ancient One, the mystic arts mentor to the film’s titular hero. Normally, casting Swinton in anything would be cause for unequivocal praise. In this case, however, the source material’s version of the character was a Tibetan man, which led to concerns that Swinton had taken a role that by all rights should have gone to an Asian actor.
THR reports that while on the Doctor Strange press tour, director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) insisted that the film version of The Ancient One was written for Tilda Swinton from the start. He even suggested that the script would have had to be rewritten if she had not agreed to take the part. “Looking at Marvel movies,” Derrickson said, “I think that we’re missing a major character that is Tilda’s age and has this kind of strength and power.” He also expanded on why they decided to take the character a different direction, saying, “The Ancient One in the comics is a very old American stereotype of what Eastern characters and people are like, and I felt very strongly that we need to avoid those stereotypes at all costs.”
Swinton herself has said as much about the role, previously stating that “I wasn’t asked to play an Asian character, you can be very well assured of that.” Fortunately, she seems to be taking it all in stride and enjoying her place in the expanding Marvel mythos.
“The greatest fun for me was the fighting. That was a great thrill. And possibly the most difficult thing was casting spells while remembering the lines. That was a tricky thing. But truly, it was a blast.”
Despite the controversy, Marvel is at least being thoughtful about how real-life cultures are represented in their widely-viewed entertainment worlds. (They must have heard somewhere that “With great power comes great responsibility.”) For those concerned that Marvel Studios is just altering their source material willy-nilly, Doctor Strange himself (actor Benedict Cumberbatch) would like to assure you that is not the case.
“Thankfully we have a studio boss who is also a massive fanboy, there is nothing [Kevin Feige] does not know about the original comics. So, together with the rest of his team, it’s done out of love, and there’s a huge amount of respect – respect for detail.”
Good to know, Mr. Cumberbatch. Hopefully, this respect for detail will pay off once again when Doctor Strange hits theaters early next month.
Stay tuned to Screen Rant for updates on Doctor Strange and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as they hit.
Doctor Strange opens November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity War – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel– March 8, 2019; Untitled Avengers – May 3, 2019; and as-yet-untitled Marvel movies on July 12, 2019, and on May 1, July 10, and November 6 in 2020.