Marvel‘s upcoming Doctor Strange has been catching a whole lot of heat these last few weeks, over the casting of Tilda Swinton, an Anglo-Scottish actress, in the role of The Ancient One, generally portrayed as an Asian man in the comic book source material.
Swinton herself spoke up about the casting, saying that the character in the film is different from the one in the comic books, but that wasn’t enough for veteran actor George Takei, who laid into the film in pretty spectacular fashion last week.
In the comments section of one very angry Facebook post, Takei argued that Doctor Strange is evidence of a broader Hollywood trend of putting Asian actors on the sidelines, saying:
To those who say, “She an actress, this is fiction,” remember that Hollywood has been casting white actors in Asian roles for decades now, and we can’t keep pretending there isn’t something deeper at work here. If it were true that actors of Asian descent were being offered choice roles in films, these arguments might prevail. But there has been a long standing practice of taking roles that were originally Asian and rewriting them for white actors to play, leaving Asians invisible on the screen and underemployed as actors. This is a very real problem, not an abstract one. It is not about political correctness, it is about correcting systemic exclusion. Do you see the difference?
In a recent interview with Deadline, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige addressed the issue, maintaining the line that Marvel wanted a fresh take on the character, and saying:
“The casting of the Ancient One was a major topic of conversation in the development and the creative process of the story. We didn’t want to play into any of the stereotypes found in the comic books, some of which go back as far as 50 years or more.”
He maintained pride in the decision to swap the character’s gender, telling Deadline:
“We felt the idea of gender-swapping the role of the Ancient One was exciting. It opened up possibilities, it was a fresh way into this old and very typical story line. Why not make the wisest bestower of knowledge in the universe to our heroes in the particular film a woman instead of a man?”
In a recent interview, Doctor Strange writer C. Robert Cargill hinted that The Ancient One had been made white in an effort to appeal to Chinese audiences, who might be uncomfortable with a Tibetan character given the Tibetan independence movement.
Fiege flat-out denied those statements, saying the story was “completely erroneous”, and that:
“We make all of our decisions on all of our films, and certainly on Doctor Strange, for creative reasons and not political reasons. That’s just always been the case. I’ve always believed that it is the films themselves that will cross all borders and really get people to identify with these heroes, and that always comes down to creative and not political reasons.”
Photo: Jesse Grant / Matthias Nareyek / Getty.