Casting of the Ancient One in Doctor Strange has been the subject of recent controversy with the casting of Tilda Swinton in the role. In the comics, Swinton’s character, a powerful magician who will become Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) mentor, is both male and Asian.
With people seeing a Western and female version of the character in the recently released Doctor Strange trailer, the controversy of Hollywood’s so-called “whitewashing” of characters arose. Adding fuel to the fire is the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the live-action Ghost in the Shell.
Asked by The Hollywood Reporter about the controversy during the New York screening of Swinton’s A Bigger Splash, the actress said:
Well, it’s not actually an Asian character — that’s what I need to tell you about it. I wasn’t asked to play an Asian character, you can be very well assured of that.
... you just have to wait and see, because it’s not an Asian character.
As EW notes, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said more of the same thing during last year’s set visit of Doctor Strange in London.
Feige defended casting Swinton as the Ancient One, saying:
We’re never afraid to change things. In the comic books, Jarvis is an elderly white butler. In the movies, he’s an A.I. system which becomes Paul Bettany’s Vision. So, we always are looking for ways to change things.
I think if you look at some of the early incarnations of the Ancient One in the comics, they are what we would consider today to be quite, sort of, stereotypical. They don’t hold up to what would work today. Also, within the storyline of our movie, the Ancient One is a title that many people have had. So, as we were looking, frankly, to diversify the film, we hit very early on, ‘What if the Ancient One was a woman? What if the title had been passed and the current Ancient One is a woman? Oh, that’s an interesting idea. Tilda Swinton! Whoah!’ And it just hit.
Personally, I don’t see any fault in Marvel’s decision to cast Swinton as the Ancient One. I also agree with Feige when he said the decision is progressive. Casting the Ancient One as a white actress is one thing, but making her female is another thing. I don’t think Marvel purposefully cast Swinton just to make the character white. By all means, the 55-year-old actress is extremely talented and great at her job. As long as she could portray the character well, then I think Marvel couldn’t have cast a better actress.
Doctor Strange hits theaters on November 4.