‘Doctor Strange’ Writer Shrugs Off ‘Whitewashing’ Accusations

Doctor Strange is the latest film to be accused of whitewashing after it chooses Tilda Swinton to play the role of a character portrayed as a Tibetan in the comics. However, the writer of Doctor Strange dismissed the allegations.

In Doctor Strange, the British actress gives life to the role of The Ancient One who serves as the mentor of Stephen Strange. In the original 1960s’ comics, The Ancient One is a Tibetan man. Variety reports that at the film’s premiere, Jon Spaihts said that they needed to incorporate changes as some of the aspects of the original comics are dated.

“They represent, to some extent, stereotypes which we had to find ways to freshen up. We were wrestling with the fact that some of the core characters of the Doctor Strange mythos were created in the early 60s and they are dated.

As for director Scott Derrickson, they have chosen Tilda simply because she exudes a mystical appeal. “I think diversity is the responsibility of directors and producers. In this case, the stereotype of [the Ancient One] had to be undone. I wanted it to be a woman, a middle-aged woman,” he said.

Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One

The announcement of Tilda as the Ancient One was met with various responses. Star Trek actor George Takei took to Facebook to call the casting “cringeworthy.” He had pretty strong opinions about “whitewashing” in Hollywood films. For him, the Doctor Strange team selected Tilda believing that “white audiences want to see white faces.”

“All the arguments in the world don’t change the fact that Hollywood offers very few roles to Asian actors, and when one comes along, they hire a white actor to do it, for whatever the reasons. Until that mindset can change, and the studios do something to stop this practice (Remember The Last Airbender? Aloha?) I will continue to speak out. And incidentally, there are many ways to write non-stereotypical roles these days, even out of existing portrayals. Casting an Asian actor in an Asian role that was once stereotypical but is now nuanced and developed–now that would be a welcome development.”

Another Doctor Strange writer said that they didn’t depict the Ancient One as Tibetan because of political reasons. C. Robert Cargill said that they didn’t want to risk “alienating one billion people” in China since the country has been conflicting with Tibet since the 1950s.

Earlier this year, Paramount and Dreamworks likewise faced backlash after releasing a teaser photo of Ghost in the Shell. The story, which is based on a Japanese manga, follows an anti-cyberterror task force headed by cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi. Some were surprised that the role went to Scarlett Johansson. Ming-Na Wen, the voice behind Disney’s Mulan, also voiced her opinion.

Just like what the producers of Doctor Strange are facing now, the creators of the Ghost in the Shell film were also accused of “whitewashing.” Producer Steven Paul then said that the film wasn’t just a Japanese story.

Ghost in the Shell was a very international story, and it wasn’t just focused on Japanese; it was supposed to be an entire world,” he told Buzzfeed News. They went on to say that Scarlett was perfect for the role because she possessed the “cyberpunk feel.” Ghost in the Shell will come out in March 2017.

Ghost in the Shell lead star Scarlett Johansson

Doctor Strange will premiere on October 26 and lead star Benedict Cumberbatch can’t help but be excited. He recently revealed that Marvel Studios delayed the film’s production just to wait for him because he was then busy working on another project. The Sherlock actor admitted that the studio’s decision terrified him at first.

[Featured Image by Marvel Studios]