Doctor Strange co-writer C. Robert Cargill has defended the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in the forthcoming Marvel superhero movie. In the original Marvel comics, this powerful sorcerer is usually depicted as an elderly, Tibet-dwelling Asian man. In director Scott Derrickson’s film, version, however, Swinton’s character is a white, androgynous figure who lives in Kathmandu, Nepal. Controversy over the casting of Swinton followed the release of a Doctor Strange teaser trailer two weeks ago and the furor over Hollywood’s so-called “white-washing” of non-Caucasian characters was further fueled by an image of Scarlett Johansson in the big-screen adaptation of manga franchise Ghost in the Shell.
Speaking on the Double Toasted podcast, Cargill explained that the casting of Swinton was prompted partly by the racist nature of the original character and partly by the problem of having a character based in Tibet, over which China claims sovereignty.
“The thing with the Ancient One is, it is Marvel’s Kobayashi Maru,” said the writer, referring to the no-win training test given to Starfleet Academy cadets in the Star Trek universe. “There is no other character in Marvel history that is such a cultural landmine, that is absolutely unwinnable. I’ve been reading a bunch of people talking about it, and the really frustrating thing about it this week is that, most of the people who have thoughts on it haven’t thought it all the way through. And they go, ‘Well, why didn’t they just do this?’ And it’s like, I could tell you why every single decision which involves the Ancient One is a bad one and, just like the Kobayashi Maru, it all comes down to which way you’re willing to lose. The Ancient One was a racist stereotype, who comes from a region of the world that is in very weird political place. He originates from Tibet, so if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place, and that he is Tibetan, you risk alienating 1 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…. So, what Scott decided to do — and this happened before I came onboard, so I wasn’t part of this decision at all, although there’s part of me that wishes I was — was, he was just like, ‘There’s no real way to win this, so let’s use this as an opportunity to cast an amazing actress in a male role.’”
Cargill also said that the Doctor Strange teaser trailer only gave a small idea of the film’s scope. “This teaser, it is the definition of a teaser,” he explained. “You are only getting a small taste of just how crazy this movie gets. We have only just a slightest hint of magic in there. There’s major characters you don’t even glimpse in that trailer. There’s so much stuff going on that — it’s nutty, the stuff they let us do. I can’t believe they let us do it.”
Doctor Strange is released Nov. 4.