Marvel’s decision to cast a white woman in the role of an Asian character has been just one of many threads in the theme of Hollywood whitewashing this year. In the upcoming Doctor Strange, Tilda Swinton will play the Ancient One, originally an Asian character in the comic books. Now Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson have chimed in about their reasons for casting Swinton, and how they might be trying to make up for that by tweaking another role.

During a set visit in London earlier this year, Feige, Derrickson and Benedict Cumberbatch spoke to a handful of journalists about the new film, discussing everything from the importance of magic in the movie to Mads Mikkelson’s character to casting choices. Feige explains that Tilda’s the Ancient One is just one of many iterations of the character, but that this movie just so happens to take place when that character just so happens to be a Celtic woman (via SlashFilm):

We talked about the Ancient One being a title that has been held probably for hundreds and hundreds of years by individuals, but there’ve been various ones, and the one we meet in this movie happens to be a female of Celtic descent, who most people, even those who surround her, have forgotten exactly where she came from because she’s been around. I think we state in the movie hundreds and hundreds of years – they’re not sure exactly how long. So that was one way of doing a new interpretation of that character.

That isn’t anything too new from what Marvel said in a previous statement on the casting, but what Feige added about Benedict Wong’s character is. In the film the actor plays Wong, originally a Chinese monk in the comics who was the Doctor’s sidekick and valet. Both Feige and Derrickson explained that since Wong was portrayed as a racial stereotype in the comics , they wanted to reinvent his role for the movie. “He is not the assistant manservant,” Feige said, adding that the character has been updated to have a more prominent role as a Master. Derrickson added:

But Wong even more than The Ancient One I think was a character that there just wasn’t a lot that was fundamental about his character that was usable. So instead of being a sidekick, he’s a master of the mystic arts. Instead of being a manservant, he oversees the library at Kamar-Taj and is an intellectual mentor to Strange.  So we kind of flipped everything that he was.

It’s exciting that they’ve worked to reverse the inherent stereotypes of Wong from the comics, and hopefully he’s featured throughout the movie. But still, couldn’t they have applied the same logic and care to the Ancient One, casting an Asian actor who also defied stereotypes?

Here are some other highlights from the various set reports:

  • Feige revealed Mikkelson’s villain, Kaecilus, was a sorcerer who follows the mystic teachings of the Ancient One, but soon broke away. Kaecilus’ villainy is also in line with the schools of thought of other famous movie bad guys, like The Joker in The Dark Knight and John Doe in Seven (via ScreenRant).
  • Kaecilus will also be a villain who’s “rooted in the real” but empowered by something “otherwordly.” Derrickson likened the character to the “Sauron-Saruman idea in Lord of the Rings” (via IGN).
  • Harry Potter inspired the movie’s magical objects, one of which is called the “Sling Ring” (via BirthMoviesDeath).
  • Star Wars, on the other hand, was a reference point to avoid. Derrickson noted that he didn’t want the magic to look like anything we’ve seen from LucasFilm. The one other major influence on the film’s action scenes were martial arts movies (via BirthMoviesDeath).
  • Cumberbatch hinted to ScreenRant during the set visit that the Illuminati may be making an appearance in future Doctor Strange movies. In the Marvel Comics, the Illuminati are a secret group of superheroes comprised of Strange, Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Professor X, Black Bolt and Prince Namor. Hmm.
  • A prologue about the science in the film was cut from the movie, but Feige said it may show up in a future film. The prologue took place in CERN, the particle physics lab in Geneva, and came out of discussions surrounding the parallel and multiple-dimensions of the film’s universe (via SlashFilm).
  • Doctor Strange will feature cameos from two comic characters, Jericho Drumm, aka Brother Voodoo, and Tina Minoru (via Nerdist).

Doctor Strange opens November 4.


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