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Marvel Defends Its Casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One

Doctor Strange, Marvel

There has been a hot debate over the last few weeks, about the whitewashing of roles in Hollywood films. Marvel has become the most recent studio to come under the scrutiny from equality groups and essentially everyone waving the flag of equality. I don’t mean to demean this group of people, Hollywood has traditionally whitewashed their characters, and reform does need to come. There are many things to take into account when taken this stance recently. First things first, this is the statement that Marvel released today, via Mashable:

Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU to life. The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic. We are very proud to have the enormously talented Tilda Swinton portray this unique and complex character alongside our richly diverse cast.

Doctor Strange, Marvel
Benedict Cumberbatch stars in Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange’ as the Sorcerer Supreme Steven Strange. image: Marvel

The Chinese film market is the largest one in the world. If you ever see a film getting a sequel, and you are scratching your head about how this could happen, blame the Chinese market. There are films that do really bad domestically that go over seas and are huge hits. Over the last 10 years, studios have gone through leaps and bounds trying to establish a good rapport with China. You can look at films like 2012, Transformers 4, and many other that have set their films in China to include some of the Chinese culture and locations in films which would appeal to Chinese audiences.

The reason that Marvel decided to cast Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One had nothing to do with whitewashing roles, and had everything to do with money and overseas relationships. China doesn’t recognize Tibet as a country or a people, so to put a Tibetan as a major character in the film would risk the film being banned in China. Instead of risking the film not doing well, Marvel and the production team decided to cast the character as a Celtic woman.

Doctor Strange, Marvel
Concept art from Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton. Image: Marvel

According to CBRDoctor Strange writer C. Robert Cargill said that their stance with the character was:

“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 bullshit 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 we decide to go the other way and cater to China in particular and have him be in Tibet… if 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 fuck you’re talking about.”

“The thing about the Ancient One is it is Marvel’s Kobayashi Maru, there is no other character in Marvel history that is such a cultural land mine, that is absolutely unwinnable. 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 on which way you’re willing to lose.”

You can check out the interview in the video below, by DoubleToasted:

This casting had everything to do with money, plain and simple. It was not a missed step by the studio, rather it was a very calculated and discussed decision, that ultimately ended with a great actress landing a pivotal role in Doctor Strange.

Brad Repka
I am an avid lover of all things Movies, TV, Games, and delicious other randomness. Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave comment!
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