When it was first announced that Tilda Swinton would be playing the Ancient One in Doctor Strange, critics claimed that the role was being whitewashed since in the original comics, the Ancient One is Tibetan. Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige and director Scott Derrickson have frequently spoken out about why they made the choice they did, and now Derrickson has revealed that only Swinton could have played the role in the first place. Here’s what he said:
Looking at Marvel movies, I think that we’re missing a major character that is Tilda’s age and has this kind of strength and power. 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
Preparing for the release of Doctor Strange, The Hollywood Reporter interviewed some of the cast and crew of the film, and one of the topics discussed was the casting of Tilda Swinton. Scott Derrickson insists that the role of the Ancient One was always written with Swinton in mind for the part. In fact, had she not signed on, they would have had to rework the character. The filmmakers wanted to do something unique with the Ancient One and veer away from the stereotype of the character. There’s no denying that Swinton has a presence all her own that isn’t easily replicated.
This Ancient One controversy has surrounded Doctor Strange since Tilda Swinton’s casting was first announced. Swinton herself has come out to say that she was never approached to play an Asian character. The Ancient One in the MCU is a title that has been passed down throughout the ages. Swinton’s version is just the latest to have the role by the time the film begins.
Leading to the release of Doctor Strange, Marvel was always going to have to deal with this backlash. This sort of casting is a controversial choice for any film. On one hand, you’re avoiding negative stereotypes; on the other, you’re depriving asian actors of a big film role- which is major considering how few leading roles are given to asian actors. But once the movie comes out and people see Tilda Swinton in action, perhaps opinions may change.
Doctor Strange is directed by Scott Derrickson and stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, and (of course) Tilda Swinton. After a car crash ruins his hands, Doctor Stephen Strange, a brilliant but arrogant surgeon, travels the world searching for a treatment. His journey eventually leads him to Nepal and the Ancient One, who promises to teach him the ways of magic, revealing to him a universe of endless possibility.
Doctor Strange is releasing in theaters on November 4, 2016.