Doctor Strange: Marvel Denies Whitewashing by Casting Tilda Swinton as Ancient One

Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange
Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange

Marvel Denies Appeasing Chinese in Doctor Strange Casting of Ancient One

No sooner did Marvel get praised for casting a woman as The Ancient One opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in “Doctor Strange” did the backlash begin.

Tilda Swinton, who is of Anglo-Scottish-Australian decent, is playing a character originally imagined as a mystic from Tibet, prompting question of whether this was another case of Hollywood whitewashing, this time to appease the major Chinese film market.

Marvel Issues Statement about Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange

But in a statement to Mashable, Marvel insists the issue is more nuanced and that the Ancient One was never intended to be of any particular race or gender:

“Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its (Marvel Cinematic Universe) 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.”

Swinton echoed that sentiment. “Well, it’s not actually an Asian character — that’s what I need to tell you about it,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I wasn’t asked to play an Asian character, you can be very well assured of that.”

Doctor Strange Casting Issue Arose After Statements by Screenwriter

The casting issue arose after the movie’s screenwriter, C. Robert Cargill, spoke of the challenges of filling the role, saying the studio would be criticized no matter what it did because of the violence and incendiary issues surrounding China’s opposition to Tibetan independence.

“There is no other character in Marvel history that is such a cultural landmine, that is absolutely unwinnable,” Cargill said during an appearance on a recent Double Toasted podcast

The casting also played into the #HollywoodSoWhite controversy over longstanding racial and gender bias in front of and behind the camera. In the most recent instance, critics questioned the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the upcoming Manga movie “Ghost in the Shell” in a role that has been Asian in the comics and previous films and TV series.

“Doctor Strange”  arrives in theaters Nov. 4.