Marvel Denies Whitewashing 'Doctor Strange' to Appease China

The studio moved to tamp down growing online criticism linked to the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One.
Courtesy of Disney
'Doctor Strange'

In the face of stinging criticism that it "whitewashed" the characters in Doctor Strange, Marvel has moved to defend the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, a move even the screenwriter of the film hinted was to appease Chinese sensibilities.

In a statement released to Mashable, Marvel defended its casting record saying that it had a "very strong record of diversity" and that it "regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) to life."

The studio also added background information on the Ancient One, which would make Swinton's casting plausible if not more palatable. "The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic"

The casting of Swinton, a white Scottish woman, as the Ancient One, originally conceived as a Tibetan mystic who mentors Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), has been controversial ever since it was announced. But criticism has ramped up in recent days after one of the film's writers suggested that casting a Tibetan risked alienating Chinese audiences — and, potentially, the Chinese government. 

Doctor Strange screenwriter C. Robert Cargill suggested Marvel was bound to upset people whichever way it went, describing the comic book incarnation of the Ancient One as "a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in [a] very weird political place."

He added: "He originates from Tibet, so if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating 1 billion people who think that that’s bullshit 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.'"

China is expected to top North America in 2017 to become the largest movie market in the world. Marvel films have a strong track record in China — Avengers: Age of Ultron grossed $240 million there. 

The full Marvel statement to Mashable is below:

Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU to life. The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic. We are very proud to have the enormously talented Tilda Swinton portray this unique and complex character alongside our richly diverse cast.

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