Tilda Swinton & 'Doctor Strange' Cast Address Whitewashing Criticisms and Comic Book Stereotypes
By Angelique Jackson
Marvel's Doctor Strange is one of the latest films to be caught in the debate about whitewashing in Hollywood and the call for more diversity on screen. When ET sat down with the cast, Tilda Swinton was armed with a diplomatic response to the so-called controversy around her casting as the Ancient One in the superhero film. The character is an Asian man in the comics, but a Celtic woman in the film.
"The first thing to say, anybody who is shouting nice and loud for a more accurate representation of the diversity of our world on our screens and in our world, right on," Swinton told ET. "Let's all shout loud for that. At the same time, [with] Doctor Strange, you kind of need to see the movie to understand the decisions that were made."
When adapting the story for the big screen, writer and director (and life-long Doctor Strange fan) Scott Derrickson had some challenges ahead -- namely combating the stereotypes in the comics.
"The Ancient One was a lot more difficult because I wanted to get away from the Fu Manchu magical Asian stereotype that was in comics, but he has to still be a mystical magical martial arts mentor to Strange," Derrickson told ET. "Making it a woman was the first choice. Not just a woman, but a woman Tilda's age, who is not just a young 26-year-old leather-clad fanboy dream girl. But then also I needed an actress that could embody what is great about the Ancient One character -- an enigmatic, mystical, domineering, sometimes duplicitous character. I would have cast an Asian woman in that role, but I didn't want it to fall into the 'Dragon Lady' stereotype."
For Derrickson, casting Swinton in the role was the key to bringing the Ancient One to life.
"It was very tricky," he explained. "I did not know what to do with the role until I thought of [Tilda] and, when I thought of her for the first time at the script stage, I was able to write a character that worked. I remember giving the script to [Marvel Studios President] Kevin Feige and saying this is for Tilda Swinton and if she'll do it great. If she doesn't, we're going to have to re-write it again, because I don't know who else to do this role. But luckily she read it, and wanted to do it, and said yes."
Another character updated from the comics is Wong, portrayed in the film by 'Marco Polo' star Benedict Wong.
"Updating Wong was not so difficult. He was such a bad stereotype in the comics if we're being frank about it. He was a sidekick manservant. I didn't want anything to do with that," Derrickson admitted. "I actually thought we were going to leave him out of the movie, but then we realized we could completely invert all those stereotypes. Instead of a manservant, he's a master of the mystic arts. Instead of a sidekick, he's Strange's intellectual mentor. He's as much of a domineering force in Strange as the Ancient One is."
Getting rid of the comic book's stereotypes was equally important to Wong as an actor. He told ET that the updates helped him feel comfortable with the character.
"There's certain aspects to it in the '60s which I just thought maybe need to be just tucked up and left in the '60s," he explained.
Wong also admitted that before he knew Doctor Strange's story, he didn't realize there were Asian superheroes. He praised the updates to the film, adding "it's important across the board when we as humans sense that it needs to be change. And it needs updating simply."
Swinton is not offended by any naysayers but instead applauds the conversation for more diversity, saying, "I'm really welcoming, to be honest with you. If our movie and the choices that were made about our movie gave a little fillip to that voice then all for it."
To see what we thought of the film, check out ET's review below. Doctor Strange hits theaters Nov. 4.