Given how well-oiled the Marvel machine is for maximum appeal and minimal scandal, it’s kind of surprising to see the studio weathering some controversy. Their upcoming “Doctor Strange” has come under scrutiny for whitewashing, with Tilda Swinton taking the role of The Ancient One, a character who is Tibetan in the comics, and is now Celtic in origin on the big screen. The latest chatter suggests that Marvel made the change so as not to hurt their chances in China, one of the most important international movie markets. But it’s a claim that Marvel roundly rejects.
In a statement released to Mashable, Marvel defends their “very strong record of diversity” and says that “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.”
Meanwhile, speaking with Den Of Geek, Swinton said that she was not asked to play a different ethnicity. “The script that I was presented with did not feature an Asian man for me to play, so that was never a question when I was being asked to do it,” she revealed. “It all will be revealed when you see the film, I think. There are very great reasons for us to feel very settled and confident with the decisions that were made.”
So, is this actually something to get worked up about or is it a mountain being made out of a molehill? Well, according to one of the film’s screenwriters, C. Robert Cargill, Marvel was pretty much in a no win position with a character who was “a racist stereotype” in the comics.
“There is no other character in Marvel history that is such a cultural landmine, that is absolutely unwinnable,” he said on the “Double Toasted” podcast (via THR). “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.”
“Doctor Strange” opens on November 4th. Let us know what you think about all of this in the comments section, and listen to the full talk with Cargill below.