Scarlett Johansson’s upcoming Ghost in the Shell live-action movie is not the only Hollywood production that's been accused of whitewashing Asian characters. Marvel’s Doctor Strange came under the same scrutiny when Tilda Swinton was cast as the Ancient One, a powerful sorcerer who trains Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange in the magical arts, because the character is Tibetan in the Marvel comics (he's also a man, although no one seems to be batting an eye at the gender swap).
Over the weekend, Swinton (who is said to be aware of said backlash) and one of the movie’s co-writers, C. Robert Cargill (Jon Spaihts and director Scott Derrickson also had a hand in the screenplay), explained the reasons why changes were made to the character for the movie.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Swinton 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.” The actress also added with a smile, “You just have to wait and see, because it's not an Asian character.”
Well, that’s not much to go on, for sure. But Cargill gave a lengthy explanation behind the reasons why the Doctor Strange powers-that-be elected to cast a white woman in the role of the Ancient One in a video interview with Double Toasted Podcast (via Yahoo!Movie).
“There is no other character in Marvel history that is such a cultural landmine, that is absolutely unwinnable,” Cargill said during an appearance on the Double Toasted podcast. “I’ve been reading a bunch of people talking about it, and the really frustrating thing about it this week, is that most of the people who have thoughts on it haven’t thought it all the way through and they go, ‘Why didn’t they just do this?’ And it’s like, I could tell you why. I could tell you why every single decision that involves the Ancient One is a bad one, and just like the Kobayashi Maru, it all comes down onto which way you’re willing to lose.”
Star Trek fans will recognize the Kobayashi Maru as an unwinnable training scenario for Starfleet cadets. The only person ever to beat the unwinnable scenario was a certain young cadet named James T. Kirk. And that's because he cheated. Cargill then went on to describe the comic-book version of the Doctor Strange character.
“[The Ancient One is] 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— 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 you are telling me 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— you’re talking about,” he said. “Oh, 'she could be Asian!’ Asian? She could be Japanese, she could be Indian, really? The levels of cultural sensitivity around this thing is, everyone is staking out their one particular place and not realizing that every single thing here is a losing proposition.”
There you have it. What do you guys think? Are you looking forward to seeing what Marvel and Tilda Swinton have in store for the role of the Ancient One? Doctor Strange opens in movie theaters on Nov. 4.