'Doctor Strange' Movie Added Classic Asian Character to Balance Tilda Swinton's Casting

"He could be completely subverted as a character and reworked into something that didn't fall into any of the stereotypes of the comics," explaned director Scott Derrickson of the addition of Wong.
Chris Bachalo/Marvel Entertainment

Marvel's upcoming magical movie Doctor Strange has come under fire for whitewashing the character of the Ancient One — in comic book lore, an Asian man, but played by Tilda Swinton onscreen. But director Scott Derrickson has said that he was aware of the problem, and took steps to address the balance by bringing in another Marvel character.

Saying that he was happy with the way the the casting of Swinton subverted the traditional stereotype of the wise old Asian guru, Derrickson told the Los Angeles Daily News that he was "also very conscious that in doing that I was erasing a significant potential Asian role."

He went on, "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 of the comics." In the movie, he's played by The Martian's Benedict Wong.

Although Wong — the character has no other name — first appeared as a subservient assistant to Doctor Strange in 1963's Strange Tales No. 110, he has undergone a quiet subversion of his own in the comic books, becoming more sarcastic and active in his assistance of the Sorcerer Supreme. While he remains in service to the hero, he is hardly fulfilling the stereotypical role many suspect.

Overall, Derrickson said, he was happy with the representation to be found in Doctor Strange.

"In this movie, we have about as diverse a cast as I think you can get, and that was a very conscious decision," he said. Swinton's casting is pointed to as an example of this, with the director saying, "We’re bringing a middle-aged woman who’s not 28 years old in leather pants into the Marvel Universe in a major role."

Doctor Strange will be released Nov. 4.

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