Marvel Responds to ‘Doctor Strange’ ‘Whitewashing’ Criticisms Over Tilda Swinton Casting

Tilda Swinton Doctor Strange
Courtesy of Marvel

In the wake of recent criticisms that “Doctor Strange” is “whitewashed,” Marvel has responded by defending its casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One.

The mystical character is of Tibetan descent in its original Marvel Comics depiction, so Marvel’s casting of Swinton, a white Scottish woman, for the role has generated controversy.

“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,” a Marvel Studios spokesperson said in a statement to Mashable, adding that the studio routinely casts diverse talent for its projects and “regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU to life.”

Though the casting choice has remained controversial since its announcement, the issue gained traction after “Doctor Strange” writer C. Robert Cargill made a recent comment suggesting that casting a Tibetan for the role would have been risky due to the nature of the character, which he described as a “racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in [a] very weird political place.”

Cargill continued, “He [the Ancient One] originates from Tibet, so if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that’s bulls— and risk the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.'”  He later clarified on Twitter that Marvel did not speak with him about China and that the opinions he expressed on the issue were his own, not the studios.’

Swinton addressed the controversy of her casting earlier this week, clarifying that she wasn’t selected for the role of an Asian character.

The Oscar-winning actress isn’t the only star at the center of the whitewashing conversation. The castings of Scarlett Johansson as a Japanese human-cyborg in the remake of anime classic “Ghost in the Shell” and Emma Stone as a part Hawaiian character in the romcom “Aloha” were also received negatively.

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  1. Nick Fury says:

    To say that changing an already created character from white to ANYTHING is ok…but from ANYTHING to white isnt ok….is one of the most racist comments…and then to see the convoluted logic behind it….ITS NOT OK IN EITHER CASE. An established character is a member of the family in the readers mind… The continuity of the story and characters (whether heroes or villains) is a beloved thing in the mind of an avid fan. I don’t want to come to my Thanksgiving dinner and the part of grandma is being played by somebody else….or cousin Sue or whoever. If people really want more ethnic characters CREATE THEM!!!! Get off your damn soapbox and sit down at a drafting table and DRAW… and WRITE… and give us all something worthy of interest and excitement!!! Don’t just take the easy way out by snatching a character and changing the ethnicity…..in EITHER direction.

  2. Miguelone says:

    Received negatively by whom?

  3. Johan says:

    Baron Mordo, a white character, is played by a African-British. Race does not matter, it is all about making the best film possible.

  4. Ed says:

    The true reason behind this is Marvel not wanting to portray a Tibetan in a good light as their core audience outside the US is China and Chinese are very racist, specially towards Tibet. To make a wise Tibetan man a white woman living in Tibet is ludicrous to say the least.

    • Deal Ancient ones of differing races and sexes. She happens to be white, but is a major female character, A step up. Baron Mordo is now black, another step up for diversity. Wong is now a major force and not an old stereotype, another step up. All of this vs the lack of a poor stereotypical archetype.

      It’s looking at a glass 1/4 empty instead of 3/4 full as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of what The Ancient One is.

  5. Daniel says:

    So Baron Mordo is blackwashed and everyone is ok with that? What is this double standards

  6. Kana Sihsobhon says:

    What’s next? Will Marvel turn Shang Chi into a skinny white woman too?

  7. Sunny Lovett says:

    What’s even stupider is that if she is only 500 years old, she isn’t a Celt.
    1000-1500 years ago she could have been a Pict. 2000+ years ago she could have been a Celt.
    500 years ago Scotland was heavily influenced by English and Scandinavian invaders, plus increasing cultural influence from Europe.
    It really is quite unacceptable and the Swintonising casts a shadow over the entire movie, its all I can think of whenever I think of the movie and this will probably remain the case even after its successful debut.

    • therealeverton says:

      Your definition of Celts is narrow and erroneous. Celts are around right now and have been, or some time, mostly associated with Scots, Irish, Welsh, Manx and even Cornish people. (Not ALL people from there of course.) And yes there are Celts outside of those regions.

  8. Kana Sihsobhon says:

    I will be really angry if marvel turns Shang Chi into a skinny white girl but won’t be surprised.

    • therealeverton says:

      Really? What in the history of Marvel Studios’ films has led you to think that they would do that AND it wouldn’t be a surprise – suggesting they do this kind of thing a lot.

      • Kana Sihsobhon says:

        I was upset when I wrote the original comment. When the time comes to cast Shang Chi, Jimmy Wu, or Amadeus Cho, I hope Marvel won’t whitewash them. I don’t think they will but still not 100% sure.

      • therealeverton says:

        I get a lack of Hollywood sometimes. But Marvel Studios have a good track record. They’ve done things that make sense, based on their use of more tan one Universe of charcaters and balancing things out.
        Thanks for answering mate.

      • Kana Sihsobhon says:

        Lack of faith, not in Marvel Studio, but in Hollywood.

  9. Fox says:

    If they can make a white character black (Heimdall), why not an Asian character white? So what? It’s acting. I bet if they cast an Asian for the Mandarin in the future (one of the one-shots confirms that there is going to be a real Mandarin eventually besides the fake guy in Iron Man 3), people will say it’s racist because of stereotypes or some BS. Why do people care this much?
    What happened to focusing on the talents of the individual rather than the color of their skin?

    • Ed says:

      Some characters can be changed without affecting the story, specially in urban settings. Now, changing a wiseman Tibetan living in Tibet to a white woman is ridiculous. But they’re only doing this because Chinese people are racist and wouldn’t like a Tibetan in the film and they are cofinancing this garbage.

    • therealeverton says:

      I’m on your side here but a couple of things. Like it or not all things are not equal and whilst they aren’t thee IS a BIG difference in changing ethnicity from White to something else and from anything else to white. I know what you mean, but it isn’t the same right now.

      Also The Mandarin, well one of the Mandarins inn Iron Man 3, Sir Ben Kingsley, was “Asian”. The “real” Mandarin in the film, Guy Pearce, was white. You’re right, the “real REAL” Mandarin is out there, and hopefully on the way.

      When people, men & women, all different colours, get fair representation these things won’t matter. But when you may only get 1 or 2 lead roles for Asian characters out of 200+ films, taking one away is a massive deal.

      They’re wrong here though. The Ancient One simply has NOT been white washed AND we’ve got strong female AND a Black Baron Mordo as well. There’s just no problem here

      • MorinMoss says:

        “What happened to focusing on the talents of the individual rather than the color of their skin?”
        I’m looking forward to the Black Panther being played by Stephen Amell instead of Chadwick Boseman since I think Amell is a much better actor and we’re not focusing on skin color

  10. Len Parkes says:

    So unfair,as if there were so many roles available to attractive blonde White women in Hollywood.Not like Asian characters,who are ALL OVER the screen,in every film or TV show.Really,it just seems so darned unfair,all this criticism of replacing Asians with White actresses.It’s not like this is something Hollywood has done over and over and over and over again,even though there’s a pool of good and great Asian actors and actresses who could fill the roles being given to these White actresses.Have some sympathy,people.

  11. Oh please! Is anyone defending white Nick Fury? White Iris from Flash? White Storm father and son? Those characters were all originally white, and when Marvel decided they would be black in the movies, no one batted an eye. How is this so different? I get that ethnic people don’t get as much privilege as white people, but aren’t we all after equality? Ugh.

    • therealeverton says:

      You’re wrong and in more than one way. Changing characters in FILMS & TV from races who are underrepresented to the “dominant” “over represented race is NOT the same as changing the other way around.

      Then several of the characters you mention are white in SOME versions of the comics and not white in others. Using either is fine.

      Finally People who created and ran comics in the past had their hands tied with regards to how much they could do with non white characters. “redressing” the balance is not a big deal and something many of them are more than happy to do / see happen.

  12. Dan Goulding says:

    I am going to side with the filmmakers . Nick Fury and the Human Torch weren’t black and I accepted that . As long as it’s well acted and true to the character I will accept .

  13. blacktechz says:

    The Ancient One is an old single white female living in Tibet?

  14. Jacitb the manificant says:

    Examples: Ironman in the comics was suppose to be captured in China at a time when China wasn’t a political influence. Moving forward to Tibet. The writer understands that China doesn’t have much respect to Tibet, as a modern day political or financially accustomed country. China is to Tibet as Australia is to Aboriginal people.

    Forenote: This purpose of Swanton being put in the role has nothing to do with whitewashing, but only with keeping China happy. Financially the world being business partners with China like Marvel. If a Tibetan actor was hired then China would financially react. Think as you will but it’s about money.

  15. ss says:

    ppl must of hated mercy in bvs casting then or hugo strange, both asian cast white charaters. or how about heimdall in the same universe as doctor strange being blackwashed :/ its only a controvesey when its a white actor and its ridiculous

    • MorinMoss says:

      “China is to Tibet as Australia is to Aboriginal people”
      and Australia has many fine white actors to cast in the role of Boomerang

      “This purpose of Swanton being put in the role has nothing to do with whitewashing, but only with keeping China happy”
      Then why not cast a Chinese actor?? If Hollywood afraid of the Tibetan lobby or that the Dalai Lama would set himself on fire in the middle of Burbank?

  16. First, “they” are mad when Idris Elba is cast in Thor, now “they” are mad Tilda is cast in Doctor Strange. You can’t win . Maybe this ‘they’ everybody is afraid of is a smaller group than we think.

  17. therealeverton says:

    This will all make more sense when the film comes out.

  18. Rusty Shackleford says:

    You commenters are not able to read: “you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political”

    China will NOT show this movie in China if it has a Tibetan monk in it, or anything resembling one. That would be a ridiculous amount of money lost for Disney, so guess what the solution is? Have a non asian actor play the role. Of course Disney cannot admit this, but Cargill can.

    • Ed says:

      Thank you! You seem to be the only person here who actually gets what really is at stake. Changing a Tibetan wiseman living in Tibet to a white woman seems completely random and totally unjustifiable. The racist Chinese explanation is very obvious to me too.

  19. Lee says:

    So Hollywood’s doing what they always do, try and talk their way out of a problem instead of fixing it while there’s still time.
    If people turned up to watch the first screening and discovered that this was Dr Strange’s PERCEPTION of the ancient one, and she/he was in fact an Indian man or woman(since India is a traditional home of Buddhism, and in fact, the current home of the Dalai Llama), people would be delighted.
    The sensation would light up the box office.
    Instead they’re going the usual Hollywood route, of Gods of Egypt, Exodus Gods and Kings etc-ignore the problem while it can still be fixed, cling stubbornly to the repeatedly debunked idea that the scandal won’t hurt the box office, and end up with a big budget Aloha.
    it doesn’t matter what statement they make, as long as the ancient one is white a lot of people just aren’t going to watch it.
    They’re not going to watch a Celt be the authority on Mysticism of clear Asian origin because its as realistic as an Asian Druid in a king Arthur movie, and if this isn’t changed, they’re not going to watch Marvel’s next movie or Tilda Swinton’s next movie either.
    This is how people become box office poison. They need to stop talking and start DOING.

    • Drew says:

      If it’s a choice between losing a few viewers who are so outraged by Swinton’s role they stamp their sandalled feet and say they refuse to go see it (even though we all know they will…because they always do), or a billion Chinese people who most certainly won’t see it at the cinema…who are Disney going to appease? Sandalled hipsters or the Chinese government?

    • therealeverton says:

      What you said is part of the answer. If you read what they say fully, you get that The Ancient One is similar to The Avatar in The Last airbender nd Legend of Kora series.

  20. Adam S says:

    These excuses seem to be quite a reach.

  21. Dr Valentine says:

    THEY didn’t go to “Iran” to get a woman to play the Russian “Black Widow”! This was Marvel’s chance to add an Asian superhero, and they dropped the ball. This is some “retro-racist” bulls**t reminiscent of the time when Hollywood “chinked” up the eyes of white actors to play characters like ‘Charlie Chan’, and had the REAL Asian playing his “man Friday”…JUST like we will see visually displayed with “Wong” (the real Asian) as Strange’s “man Friday”. It’s ALL about “PERCEPTION”, and the US propaganda machine, working through Hollywood, hates China so much that they couldn’t bear seeing a white man …IN “I-MAX”… falling on his knees before an Asian man begging him to “teach me”. No matter how they fluff this to defend this dubious choice…it’s RACIST!

    • Ed says:

      This has to do with racism indeed, but not Hollywood’s. There is no way Disney will have a Tibetan superhero when racist Chinese people who hate Tibet are the core audience of this type of film outside the US.

  22. picklesnrelish says:

    China thinks Tibet is not a place?

    • Maggiewatchfilm says:

      I think they are just playing with words, as long as you don’t call Tibet a country, I don’t think any Chinese would find it bulls. Or they are just afraid that they make the character and its power out of nothing and will make the local people feel it’s nonsense.

      • When China is such a huge market for Marvel/Disney’s movies, I’m sure they want to as little controversy as possible. So avoiding the subject of Tibet is a smart bet if they hope to screen this movie in China at any point.

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