Marvel has been hard at work expanding its cinematic universe, with plans for a Doctor Strange to hit theaters later this year. Fans were pretty stoked when the first official images emerged of star Benedict Cumberbatch as the Sorcerer Supreme. But we're still scratching our heads over the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. Because when you think of a really old mystical Asian man, you think Tilda Swinton.
We haven't seen any character images, so I can't quite call it yellowface. But more likely there's some serious racebending going on here. And as usual, in painfully typical Hollywood fashion, it's an Asian performer who gets racebent off the screen. The Ancient One, traditionally depicted as an Asian man, is now a British woman.
Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and first introduced in 1963's Strange Tales #110, The Ancient One plays a significant role in the Doctor Strange mythos. Short version: born over five hundred years ago (hence, ancient) in Tibet, he was a Himalayan farmer who discovered magical powers, did the whole combatting evil thing, and later was a mentor to Stephen Strange, who became his successor as Sorcerer Supreme.
If you know anything about the origins of the character, yes, it's steeped in a lot of old-school exotic stereotypes and Oriental mysticism. Washing out the Asian-ness of The Ancient One of appears to be Marvel's attempt to sidestep some of the character's more racist undertones for a contemporary audience.
In a recent interview with EW, Marvel Studio president Kevin Feige attempted to explain how The Ancient One got magically turned into a white lady for the Doctor Strange movie.
"We're never afraid to change. In the comic books, Jarvis is an elderly butler. In the movies, he's an A.I. system which becomes Paul Bettany's Vision. We are always looking for ways to change. I think if you look at some of the early incarnations of the Ancient One in the comics, they are what we would consider today to be quite, sort of, stereotypical. They don't hold up to what would work today. Also, within the storyline of the comics, and our movie, 'the Ancient One' is a title that many people have had. We hit very early on on, What if the Ancient One was a woman? What if the title had been passed and the current Ancient One is a woman? Oh, that's an interesting idea. [Clicks fingers.] Tilda Swinton! Whoah! And it just hit."
Oh, these old stereotypes just will not do for a movie in 2016. Marvel is not having it. So how do you fix it? Just add a white woman! Can't you see? This whitewashing is happening in the name of progress.
That's some kind of lazy bullshit.
Do they intend on scrubbing out the other orientalist elements from Doctor Strange lore? In the name of progress, I mean. I'm willing to bet the movie still involves Stephen Strange journeying to Asia, learning some secret ancient Asian magic shit, and fighting bad guys with said secret ancient Asian magic shit. But now, it'll be a white lady teaching the white guy the secret ancient Asian magic shit.
How about working a little bit harder and finding a smart way to address and revise an Asian character's stereotypical elements, instead of just trying to fix this shit through casting? This is not a knock on Tilda Swinton, who is a phenomenal performer. But this is not creative or progressive casting. It's whitewashing.
More here: Tilda Swinton says her Doctor Strange character's gender is 'in the eye of the beholder'