‘Doctor Strange’ Brought Back a Character to Quell Whitewashing Protests
Given the comics’ history, Doctor Strange was going to be a difficult adaptation in 2016 no matter what. People are more culturally aware than ever, and turning a comic whose overall vibe from the days of its conception was pretty racist into a movie everyone could love was going to be tricky. Listen, this is Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s perception of Asian-ness: the 1960s weren’t exactly, as they say, “woke.”
The first banana peel director Scott Derrickson slipped on was casting Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One — a move he thought was pretty progressive because he was casting a woman as a character who is primarily shown as male in the comics. Fans instead complained that he was whitewashing a character who has consistently appeared as Asian and is said to be from somewhere in the Himalayas.
But, for what it’s worth, the team behind Doctor Strange heard the complaints and are attempting to fix things. Derrickson revealed in an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News that originally the character of Wong, Strange’s butler, was going to be taken out of the movie because Derrickson didn’t want to contribute to racist stereotyping. But since people were so up in arms about the film replacing an Asian character with a white one, Wong (played by Benedict Wong) was put back in.
I was going to leave Wong out of the movie at first; he was an Asian sidekick manservant, what was I supposed to do with that? But once the decision was made to cast Tilda, we brought Wong back because unlike the Ancient One, he could be completely subverted as a character and reworked into something that didn’t fall into any of the stereotypes in the comics.
On one hand, it’s kinda understandable why Derrickson would feel that adding in an Asian character would fix some things, and his feelings are in the right place. But does having an Asian butler, “subversive” as he may be, make everything okay again? Only time will tell. Doctor Strange hits theaters November 4.