When Marvel announced that Tilda Swinton, a white actress, would be filling the role of The Ancient One, typically an old Asian man, in Doctor Strange, the casting rightfully experienced backlash.
C. Robert Cargill, co-writer on Doctor Stranger, argued that the Ancient One’s race was changed from Tibetan because the film needed to appeal to the Chinese government and therefore the billions of people in China. So, essentially, the reason Cargill gave for shunning a whole race was ‘money’.
George Takei rightfully bashed this explanation for what it was: studio nonsense. Takei said:
“They cast Tilda because they believe white audiences want to see white faces. Audiences, too, should be aware of how dumb and out of touch the studios think we are.”
However you feel about Takei, he is right and Marvel should just admit it. They’re going to make money no matter what happens.
Now the film’s director Scott Derrickson and writer Jon Spaihts have dug another hole to jump into. Derrickson said:
"In this case, the stereotype of [the Ancient One] had to be undone. I wanted it to be a woman, a middle-aged woman. Every iteration of that script played by an Asian woman felt like a 'Dragon Lady,'" Derrickson explained, referencing another negative on-screen stereotype of an exotic and domineering Asian woman. "I'm very sensitive to the history of 'Dragon Lady' representation and Anna May Wong films. I moved away from that. Who's the magical, mystical, woman with secrets that could work in this role? I thought Tilda Swinton."
And Spaihts continued shovelling by saying:
"Tilda is an instance of us taking a male role and putting a woman in it ... So we were looking for opportunities to have not only ethnic diversity, but to have gender diversity in the film."
Look, we all know that the Ancient One was changed to a white woman because of money, money, money. Don’t give me all this tosh that you’re trying to avoid another problem because Marvel is no stranger to a lack of diversity. Who remembers when Mandarin, one of Iron Man’s most iconic villains, transpired to be a white guy? Who remembers that of the 11 solo films released (including Doctor Strange and excluding the Avengers films), all 11 have featured a white male as the lead? Who remembers that it has taken Marvel a decade to schedule a film led by a black superhero? Or eleven for one led by a female superhero? We all love Marvel films. I love Marvel films. But let’s not kid ourselves. It has taken them a damn while to catch on to this diversity thing.
There’s no problem gender swapping the Ancient One but why make her a white Celtic woman? If it’s just because, as Derrickson says, that the character felt like a ‘Dragon Lady’, maybe you were writing her as a ‘Dragon Lady’ or picturing her as such. You’re telling me that if Ming Na Wen took the role of the Ancient One, she would come across as fulfilling stereotypes?
So when Derrickson has the balls to say, “Who’s the magical, mystical, woman with secrets that could work in this role? I thought Tilda Swinton”, you have to sit back and confirm that studios do favour white actors and completely ignore a large portion of society: Asians.
Look, the film has been shot and edited and is so near release so there’s nothing we can do complaining about it but when directors, writers and studio heads come out and say stupid shit like this trying to explain their financial decisions, it does rub the wrong way. If you’re going to whitewash because the film has to make a certain amount of money somewhere, own it or shut the hell up. You’re Marvel so I doubt you’re going to lose money by saying something offensive. In fact, saying offensive things these days seems to be hitting a whole other portion of the general public. Marvel could be President of the United States of America.