Doctor Strange was released this weekend, and it was really good. Good enough that while watching the film I did not think about the who whitewashing issue that occurred.
If you are unsure what I am talking about, as the film was cast, an issue came up. The character of the Ancient One has always looked like some variation of this:
In the film, the Ancient One looks like this:
Sure there is a gender change, but the real issue was the casting of Tilda Swinton in the role of a traditionally Asian character. Now, the Ancient One falls into an old storytelling trope of the “Mystical Asian”. He is the wise old Asian who helps train a white man in the mystic arts.
Swinton is a white woman. And that is where the frustration was born. It is an understandable frustration, and I agree in an industry where there are not a lot of major roles for Asian Actors this matters in a way that is wholly different from the other race change in Doctor Strange. Baron Mordo, who looks like this in the comics:
He is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor who looks like this:
So, some certainly question where the “outrage” is in casting a white actor in the role of a white character? This has been hashed over and over, in spite of the very simple answer. That answer is, the roles for white actors is abundant. There is no danger of them losing decent roles. So, taking into account that these comics were created in a time where little consideration was given to creating black characters, opening those roles up for actors who are not white? It makes absolute sense. But here?
There are far fewer roles for Asian actors. All is not equal in Hollywood, and such concerns should be taken seriously.
It should be said, I do not believe that Director Scott Derrickson made this decision with Marvel out of a racist desire. In fact, I believe very much that they were trying to avoid a racist stereotype. The end result was the casting of Swinton. I get that. I also get wanting to work with Swinton. She is a good actress. In fact, I suspect she would have made a great Nightmare in a future film.
But, looking at the situation, I suspect that Derrickson is telling the truth when he notes they were very much trying to avoid a negative Asian stereotype. I think Scott was sincere in his attempt to avoid the issues that he saw the character plagued by. I still think this is a stumble, I feel strongly that as written, the character would not have been the Dragon Lady stereotype.
I absolutely feel they made the wrong choice with the Ancient One, ut I also feel they made right choices with Wong and Mordo. And at least Derrickson is exploring these concerns. There are a lot of people in Hollywood that just write it all off.