May 1, 2016
'Doctor Strange' Writer Stands By Tilda Swinton Casting As The Ancient One

Doctor Strange has faced public criticism for what many see as a case of Hollywood whitewashing in the casting choice for The Ancient One, a character who has traditionally been Asian in the Marvel comic book source material. Instead of going with an Asian actor or actress, Marvel Studios has chosen to go with veteran actress Tilda Swinton, stirring public outrage, but now the writer for Doctor Strange reveals that there may be a legitimate reason for this Doctor Strange casting choice.

Marvel Stands By The Casting Of Tilda Swinton In Doctor Strange

As it turns out, the recasting of The Ancient One in Marvel's Doctor Strange had more to do with politics and business sense than with the racial tensions currently rising in American society. In the original Doctor Strange comic books, The Ancient One is Tibetan and, as Doctor Strange screenwriter C. Robert Cargill explains, the character was transformed in order to avoid offending the Chinese government. Like many studios, Marvel relies on keeping good relations with China to allow for future projects to be filmed on location in that country. It's a lucrative arrangement that benefits both sides of the equation, but the Chinese government might rescind their permissions if they find a character insults the honor of their people.

In specific reference to Tibet, there is still great controversy surrounding China's occupation of Tibet, stemming from 1951, when the Chinese Communist Party first took control of the country. Even today, many non-Chinese societies believe Tibet should be freed from Chinese rule.

Also, as Marvel explains in their own statement, the character of The Ancient One in the Doctor Strange film was not written as an Asian character, but as a Celt.

"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," says Marvel in a statement. "We are very proud to have the enormously talented Tilda Swinton portray this unique and complex character alongside our richly diverse cast."

Prior to this explanation, many assumed the studio had chosen to go with Swinton, because Asian actors have limited drawing power at the box offices.

Doctor Strange Writer C. Robert Cargill Proves His Knowledge Of Marvel And Of The Political Atmosphere

Cargill defends the casting of Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange not just because he wants to stay in the good graces of a company as powerful as Marvel Comics, but also because he genuinely sees the sense in casting Swinton in the role. As is demonstrated in his statements regarding the Doctor Strange casting controversy, Cargill recognizes that relations with the Chinese government must take precedence over the opinions of the American public.

"The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in a very weird political place," the Doctor Strange writer points out. "He originates from Tibet, so if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he's Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people."

Cargill added that there was the risk of "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.' "

That isn't to say that Cargill, or anyone at Marvel, is denying the importance of Tibet in the context of the Doctor Strange comic books, because the source material does state very clearly that Doctor Strange ends up in Tibet. Further, Doctor Strange comic books show the titular character benefiting from the training of The Ancient One, who is, in fact, Tibetan.

Doctor Strange's writer also says there were more concerns in casting Tilda Swinton, as opposed to staying true to the Doctor Strange comic books in this regard. He points out that The Ancient One is a racist stereotype and to cling to that character, as it was written, would have been difficult, considering the current delicate sensibilities among the American public. In other words, the character of Doctor Strange's The Ancient One would have to have been rewritten one way or the other.

Doctor Strange is set to appear in theaters on November 4.

[Image by Marvel Comics]