‘Doctor Strange’ Cast Addresses Whitewashing Controversy at Film’s World Premiere

Tilda Swinton Benedict Cumberbatch Rachel McAdams
Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

The world premiere of “Doctor Strange” was held at the famous TCL Chinese Theater on Thursday night. Fans braved the 90-degree heat to get a glimpse of the Sorcerer Supreme himself, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Hollywood Boulevard was transformed into a grand magic sanctum as the cast and crew took the red carpet to celebrate the opening of 14th Marvel Universe movie.

They also took the opportunity to address criticism from some fans over the casting of British actress Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, who in the comics is depicted as an Asian man.

Director Scott Derrickson took on the whitewashing controversy, explaining how selecting Swinton was a diversity choice itself.

“I think diversity is the responsibility of directors and producers,” Derrickson told Variety. “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.”

Writer Jon Spaihts also praised the casting choice. “Tilda is an instance of us taking a male role and putting a woman in it, which I think the film badly needed. The comic world of ‘Doctor Strange’ is very male. So we were looking for opportunities to have not only ethnic diversity, but to have gender diversity in the film.”

Swinton herself urged audiences to see “Doctor Strange” before criticizing it, while championing diversity.

“They need to see the film to understand why Scott Derrickson and [Marvel Studios President] Kevin Feige decided to reimagine the Ancient One as a woman. People shouting loud and proud about needing more diversity in Hollywood cinema have got us right behind them.”

Benedict Wong, who plays Master Wong, said producers worked to dispel the Asian stereotypes around his character found in the source material. “The idea of a man servant and tea-making sidekick isn’t that appealing,” the British Chinese actor said. “Scott and Kevin said vehemently ‘were not doing this.’ And I said, ‘Fantastic because neither am I.'”

Other Marvel stars including Stan Lee (creator), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Elodie Yung (Elektra) and Gabriel Luna (Ghost Rider) made their way down the carpet before the screening.

Cumberbatch and Swinton received the loudest applause as the credits rolled, which was of course followed by Marvel’s signature post-credits scene, featuring a certain Avenger (no spoilers here) and a post-post-credits scene.

An after-party followed celebrating the film and premiere’s success.

Check out more photos from the event below.

“Doctor Strange” World Premiere

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  1. James Brigham (Bigg) Bunyon says:

    My plan is to watch the movie and hopefully enjoy it. The social commentary and ruffled feathers bits are for talking heads and career-in-the-ditch types who can never seem to get enough of themselves. In other words, I could not care less what takes place off screen or what silly things run through anybody’s head. I’m going to a movie to be entertained, not investing time is some fake cause célèbre.

  2. As an asian american, I think their approach is reasonable. How many european actors do you see in asian films? (for example, look at the attack on titans movie where all the european characters are played by asian actors). i see it as mostly a matter of marketing demographics.

    also, i think the original ancient one was supposed to be tibetan, which i think from a political / business standpoint would cause problems in the chinese market. not to say there aren’t diversity problems in american media. i think they were just trying to play it safe in this instance.

    • gtrsno says:

      How many European actors in Asian films is irrelevant. And even saying that speaks loudly about the bias Asian-Americans face. It’s not about Asia. It’s about America. And Asian-Americans are Americans that care about the diversity in THEIR country which in the USA. Doesn’t matter what goes on in China or Japan or Korea. That has to do with them and nothing to do with us.

    • clearly, the movie is made by european-americans… on second thought, there are some issues of representation considering this is an american movie and not strictly a european movie. perhaps, white-ploitation is the proper genre for it, LOL.

  3. Jiggins says:

    Wow look at all the diversity in these photos! It truly is so rare to see a white woman in film or TV. For all the haters (whom are mostly white) telling the Asians to chill, I say to you there is nothing you can say (and thank you for letting me know what I should and should not be offended by) that will make me believe this isn’t straight up Racism in Hollywood. This keeps happening time and time again! I remember being so excited as a kid to see Mortal Kombat, only to see they made Raiden (Japanese god of thunder) a white dude! It’s the same racist attitudes here that put a white character with god-like standings for us little Asians to bow down to. All about diversity you say? What a BS response. Has there been any major US film in recent memory that didn’t have a white woman in it? Thank you for letting us keep the man servant though.

  4. Real Needle Doctor says:

    So you’re telling me you couldn’t, in ALL of the talent agencies out there, find a female actress of color who could have filled that role that Swinton was given? You’re telling me there was *NO* one you could have found? Not at all? And you’re also telling me that you couldn’t have hired at least ONE writer of Asian descent or heritage who could have said, “Hey, you know for authenticity’s sake shouldn’t we also hire at least someone with a Sinology academic background or someone who is, you know, Asian that could really help us with this?” No? Not at all?

  5. tvfeelings says:

    casting a white woman in an asian role is NOT diversity

  6. Denver d says:

    Why don’t they just outright say it?
    Having an Asian male in a strong role “Tibetan master” will empower too many asian men, and we don’t want that.
    Let’s cast Benedict Wong, a fat unattractive bald asian man and perpetuate the stereotype that asian men are undesirable. (Sorry Benedict no offense)
    I mean you can spin the story as many directions as you want, but we can see the truth and reasoning behind the casting.

  7. This article does not truly address the depth of the controversy. It is crucial for female roles to increase their influence in modern films. However the controversy is based on that the Ancient One character is Tibetan, and the government of China does not like characters that remind the public of the cultural genocide of the Tibetans currently living under occupation. The popularity of Doctor Strange is centered within the new age and holistic communities, which value accuracy and authenticity in an era of revisionism and erosion of traditional cultures.
    Many long time fans of the Marvel comic book plan to boycott the film. Articles like this, which avoid the real controversy while pretending to address it, only increase the resolve of those for whom ethnic deletion is an intentional slight on a great civilization which has brought unparalleled depth into researching the inner sciences of meditation. It is rumored that Mr Cumberbatch has traveled to Nepal and spent time among Tibetan monasteries. I hope he can use his personal influence as the star of the franchise to influence the sequel and properly homage the great civilization of Tibet. The issue would be the same for how characters of native american folklore represented in westerns. If a white woman was cast as Geronimo, would there not be reasonable objection?
    Tilda Swinson is a powerhouse actor, whose resume evoke the White Witch of Narnia. I am sure she will give an incredible performance. But out of respect for the refugee monks I grew up with, I cannot see the film version of my second favorite Marvel superhero (after Nightcrawler of the X-men).

    • totally on point. i saw the political implications too. from a business point of view though, i can understand the need to not piss off the chinese market. i think they want to stay clear of politics in this case. i can see how this might be an ethical compromise though.

    • usero1 says:

      Thank you! As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, there is nothing more disingenuous when speaking about Communist China than when someone refers to it as simply “China”. It’s a Communist State. Never forget that much!

      With so many Communist subsidiaries (Alibaba Pictures, China Movie Channel, Huahua Film & Media Culture, Shanghai Film Group, etc.) now producing films in Hollywood it’s only a matter of time before they begin rewriting history here in The United States of America. The history of Tibet is no different.

      They’re already censoring certain scenes and creating new ones for their own audiences in movies (supposedly) produced and intended for Western audiences. It’s only a matter of time before familiarity and the desire for access to cheap funds leads to Hollywood itself becoming a Communist subsidiary!

  8. Jim says:

    So we’ve gotten to the point where casting a woman for a character that has traditionally been male is not even considered promoting “diversity”….lol. I wonder how some of these people get anything done when they spend all day looking for things to be offended about.

    • It’s always white people that say people of color are being oversensitive and there’s nothing to be offended about. Then they go on to decribe how everyone is a wussy now and no one can take a joke. Nah MF, we have always thought that shit was offensive. The same shit was offensive to our parents when they were growing up too. The difference is that our parents would have faked a laugh even though they were outraged, making you think they were okay with it. But our generation won’t let you slide with that garbage.

    • usero1 says:

      You forget that a revolution can never be satisfied! When a revolutionary movement is “complete”, then it becomes the status quo that it overthrew. Remember, “you either die the hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

      Not many people know that Castro sent Che to his death so that he could exploit his legend. Whenever people got restless waiting for Utopia to arrive, Castro would say “Do it for Che”, “Keep fighting for Che”, decade after decade, always with a new goal, a new enemy — be it real or imagined, anything to keep the revolution “going” in some way or another.

      What we see in America today with so-called “progressive” SJW’s is no different!

    • Brandon says:

      Jim, your statement is the epitome of white privelege.

  9. Sterling Archer says:

    So many directors, and so many studios now are in a position where they simply can not win. Any move they make, someone scream “white washing” or about exploiting stereotypes. Many screamed because Danny Rand is going to white in Iron Fist. If an Asian actor was cast, then the screams would be about how it was exploiting the stereotype of Asians and martial arts.

    • Jim says:

      Yep…..the Iron Fist thing was particularly hilarious as Danny Rand is white in the comics….but the whiners don’t let facts or reality get in the way of their soapboxing, lol.

  10. tinkle says:

    Oh shut up with all the whining about race casting. Its not your film, your money or your creativity. Dont go see the film if youre that bothered. They can cast whoever they feel fits their vision of their work. Reality is, Asians are just not a big draw in western culture. Its the same in music. Unless theyre in very specific genres like martial arts based action movies. Thats just a fact. As a white man Im not remotely offended if white people have no appeal in Asian culture or entertaiment. Its perfectly understandable people relate to their own kind more.

    • another problem with your comment is that you fail to make the distinction between “western” culture, american culture, and european culture. you conflate the three, when there are clear distinctions.

      american culture includes european americans, german americans, arab-americans, asian americans, african americans, etc… certain people, like yourself, are not interested in asians or asian americans. however, american is more than uncultured people like yourself.

      when you make a movie, it becomes part of the public discourse on culture and all americans evaluate and comment and criticize it. it’s just a fact, LOL.

    • i think it’s worth discussing. recognizing market realities is one thing, but being ignorant of its cultural and political implications / sources is another. you, my friend are unfortunately both.

    • Your comment sounds like whining more than anyone else’s. So you can “shut up”, or learn how to comment publicly while maintaining standards of polite dialogue online. Name calling and bullying make your logic weaker, not stronger. Enjoy your film choices and “relating to your own kind.”

      • usero1 says:

        Just curious… do think they’re having the same debate in Asia? “Hey, we should really cast more Anglo, African, and Hispanics in our movies!”

        No? Of course not! They’re making movies to make money, so they’re going to cast whoever draws in the biggest crowd. That’s (mostly) the same here in America, where I also mostly relate to people of my own kind and culture, which is only natural. Whining or not, its a sound point!

    • Someguy says:

      The same in music? Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Empire of the Sun, Smashing Pumpkins, Mitski, Yo-Yo Ma, Bruno Mars, Deltron 3030, Dee Lite…

  11. Ivan says:

    So changing a stereotypical character’s sex is a good thing; however, changing their race is a bad thing.

    Ok – I get how this works.

    Personally, I love Swinton’s work and look forward to any role she plays.

  12. Erik says:

    So, that is whitewashing? And how about black Annie then, what do you call that?

    • Jiggins says:

      What about Black Annie? What does that have to do with yellow face in Hollywood? Do you always group all minorities into the same basket? I’m an Asian who is disappointed to see that time and time again, the very few chances my kids have to see someone who looks like them being pushed aside to satisfy the ignorant masses.

  13. lol yeah right. more like they don’t wanna upset China.

  14. J Dancer says:

    So if Mr. Derrickson thinks “diversity is the responsibility of directors and producers” I wonder what his thoughts are of fellow Marvel Universe movie “The Black Panther”. Glancing at the IMDB page I see a black director, writer, and 8 of the top ten actors listed (including Stan Lee as one of the white actors which is kind of a stretch)are all black.. The movie seems to have a major diversity problem. Where are the Asians, Indians, Hispanics and all other races? Who is to say there is not a lost Chinese tribe in Africa? Mr. Derrickson should be making some phone calls.

    • Eric Thomas says:

      “Glancing at the IMDB page…” – enough said. Do some research on what it took for the film to see the light of day and you’ll understand why the movie has a diversity problem. Lost Chinese tribe in Africa? C’mon….

  15. Once you start making decisions based upon race, gender, or ethnicity, you’ve crossed the very line that has led our species to the worst imaginable places. Diversity lies beneath the skin, has no geographic boundaries, and pays no heed to genitalia.

    • usero1 says:

      You are correct, sir! Back in the 80’s and 90’s, “diversity in the workplace” referred to people of various educational and professional experiences, not race or gender. Today’s “diversity” is entirely superficial, shallow and short-sighted.

      Back then, there was at least enough good sense to know that the color of your skin or what God put between your legs had NOTHING to do with your professional work… unless that was your work!

  16. iceblast says:

    When you bring a book to life, you aren’t suppose to be thinking about diversity. Your suppose to be thinking of bringing the character on the page to life. I don’t understand how a male character, turns into a female character. Or a character somehow changes races.

    You can’t change that stuff, and then blame diversity, or lack of.

  17. nohw says:

    See liberal Hollywood is prejudicial and racist, so how is they get away with calling everyone else that..

  18. Mike Rhone says:

    Hey People, Movies are fictional, and in this case, a fricking Comic Book Movie. And here, i can agree with both sides, it is a case of damn if you do, damn if you don’t. And none of the actors are 2nd or 3rd rate actors. All are first class actors, and enjoy the movie without getting into politics. I’m pretty sure our Asian bros and sis have not got any problem with this in Asia. We have got enough problem in our hands right now, with this whole stupid election nightmare, I just want to turn off my brain and dazzle at the mind bending and magic sequences, and some ass kicking too.

  19. Leon says:

    More like stupid studio descision to add gender diversity to appease these pc millenials. I hate hollywood.

  20. Howard says:

    Given that Mordo was a white man in the comics and he’s played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, doesn’t that balance out?

  21. Seth says:

    This is such BS. You wanted to promote diversity so you cast a Caucasian woman and took away an opportunity for a “middle-aged” Asian “woman” to have a part in a major film set in ASIA??? So bascially, casting a middle-aged Asian woman would perpetuate the “Dragon Lady” stereotype??? Why would it if you had rewritten the script not to? They have no idea what they’re saying…Sad…Probably because they were told what to say by some idiotic publicist.

    • Gerard Kennelly says:

      a “middle-aged” Asian “woman”

      a bald Michelle Yeoh would have been mesmerizing

    • Sterling Archer says:

      If you want to get the movie released in China, then they have to make those kinds of concessions. The Chinese do not allow references to Tibet in any of their movies, or Western movies released there.

  22. Michelle says:

    Minorities can’t get roles written for/with them in mind these days. How many ASAIN roles were there in 2015? You can count the number on one hand. Now the second one in 2016 goes to a seriously Caucasian woman. Seems as if Hollywood is up to erasing the history of non-whites again. And don’t get me started on Scarlett Johansson playing the Japanese character in Ghost in the Shell. Infuriating and appalling.

    • akira1971 says:

      Infuriating and appalling, indeed. Why are these asians playing “white” characters?! Oh, the horror!

      – Chloe Bennet as Daisy Johnson (Quake) in Agents Of SHIELD?
      – Elodie Yung as Elektra Natchios in Daredevil?
      – Kristin Kreuk as Lana Lang in Smallville?
      – Alessandro Juliani as Dr. Hamilton in Smallville?
      – BD Wong as Hugo Strange in Gotham?
      – Dean Cain as Clark Kent (Superman) in Lois & Clark?
      – Jessica Henwick as Nymeria Sand in Game Of Thrones?
      – Daniel Henney as David North (Agent Zero) in X-Men Origins: Wolverine?
      – Kelsey Chow as Sally Avril in Amazing Spider-Man?
      – Ken Leung as Quill in X-Men The Last Stand?
      – Tao Okamoto as Mercy Graves in Batman vs. Superman?
      – Dave Bautista as Arthur Douglas (Drax) in Guardians Of The Galaxy?
      – Stephanie Song as Roulette in Smallville?
      – Grace Park as Boomer in Battlestar Galactica?
      – Nan Zhang as Kati Farkas in Gossip Girl?
      – Lucy Liu as Joan Watson in Elementary?
      – Janel Parrish as Mona Vanderwaal in Pretty Little Liars?
      – Shay Mitchell as Emily Fields in Pretty Little Liars?
      – Eric Steinberg as Wayne Fields in Pretty Little Liars?
      – Hettienne Park as Beverly Katz in Hannibal?
      – Kristin Kreuk as Catherine Chandler in Beauty And The Beast?
      – Kaitlyn Leeb as Camille Belcourt in Shadowhunters?
      – Ross Butler as Reggie Mantle in Riverdale?
      – Daniel Yang as Dilton Doiley in Riverdale?
      – Masi Oka as Max Bergman in Hawaii Five-O?
      – Fan Bingbing as Clarice Ferguson (Blink) in X-Men Days Of Future Past?

    • Rex says:

      Hey, read today’s news about Warner Brothers’ UNITED STATES division backing the all-Asian + Asian-AMERICAN adaptation of the hugely popular novel Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.

      And THEN you’d better go see it when it opens, because it’s exactly what all the Asian American activists wanted, apparently: a MAJOR American co-production partly bankrolled and distributed by a Big American movie studio. Too bad about all those INDEPENDENT American films made by and starring Asian-Americans that Asian Americans can’t be arsed to see. THOSE didn’t achieve the oh-so-important STATUS symbol of a Hollywood studio imprint, so better to not support those filmmakers and pretend they don’t exist while bitching about the lack of opportunities.

      Yeah . . .

    • Rex says:

      Hey, read today’s news about Warner Brothers’ UNITED STATES division backing the all-Asian + Asian-AMERICAN adaptation of the hugely popular novel Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.

      Then you damned well better go see it when it opens, because it’s exactly what all the Asian American activists wanted, apparently: a MAJOR American co-production partly bankrolled and distributed by a Big American movie studio. Too bad about all those INDEPENDENT American films made by and starring Asian-Americans that Asian Americans can’t be arsed to see. THOSE didn’t achieve the status symbol of a Hollywood studio, so better to not support those filmmakers and pretend they don’t exist while bitching about the lack of opportunities.

      Yeah . . .

  23. BillUSA says:

    This is one of those things where one could be on the fence and not be wrong – as opposed to choosing a side and being wrong. I’m on board with the opinion that playing the race card has grown out of hand, but I don’t think it applies to this situation.

    I understand and agree with the previous comments, but there is legitimacy to the claims of changing the ethnicity of a character that has nothing to do with wanting equal representation. In the case of this film, the ethnicity of the particular character was changed for no other reason but to change the ethnicity. I would argue that Swinton was included for her sexual proclivities but that’s for another rant. It would be different if the character she portrays were Caucasian and an Asian group wanted her character to be changed for their liking.

    I’d feel like a hypocrite if I felt they were barking up the wrong tree only to turn around and slam the changes to say Wonder Woman’s sexual preference, or Batman being turned into a man of another ethnicity. It isn’t imaginative of Hollywood to do so. In fact, it screams of the lack of creativity in Hollywood, their pandering to fashionable stereotypes and perhaps thumbing their nose at traditional identities. I don’t mind creative license being taken to a story, but to change a characters ethnicity because you wanted to (especially given the lame excuse they offered) is a slap in the face of the fans of the source material and those of the people represented by the original ethnicity.

  24. CJB says:

    Think the director cast the best actors.
    Wish more would do the same.

  25. Nanny Mo says:

    The race baiters in Hollywood are starting to “cry wolf”. They are the real racists. I go to see the actors, not their skin color. If all you see is skin color on the screen, then YOU are the racist here. These very talented men and women should not be marginalized by racists, they earned their parts by their talents and marketability not by their “flavor of the month” skin color.

    • Blah Blah Blah…you people with the “I don’t see color” comments are not being true to yourself. You’re trying too hard to say something that makes you look good to other people. Let’s be real.

    • Jonathan D says:

      I’m so happy to see that someone actually shares my viewpoint. It’s still sad that there are people who clearly focus just on race instead of what’s really important, talent.

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