Ancient One Tilda SwintonMarvel has pushed its diversity for the sake of diversity in the comics to embarrassing lengths, but now it appears that it is eager to do so on the big screen. Reports began circulating Wednesday that Tilda Swinton — a very capable actress — is in talks to play The Ancient One in Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange. If that sounds “strange” too you, then know that you’re not alone. Roles meant for Asian men in the MCU (e.g., The Mandarin) apparently go to white people.

The Hollywood Reporter delivered the news:

Tilda Swinton is on her way to the Marvel Universe. The actress is in negotiations to join Benedict Cumberbatch in Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange, being directed by Scott Derrickson.

Strange is Marvel’s supernatural hero, a formerly cocky surgeon who loses the use of his hands, and while on a last ditch attempt to heal himself, discovers magic. Strange’s mentor is a Tibetan mystic known as the Ancient One, who is training pupils to be the next sorcerer supreme.

It appears as though Marvel is terrified of casting Asians in roles made for Asians due to concerns over how they were drawn decades ago. Marvel’s answer this time around seems to be: fight political correctness with … more political correctness. Bring in a woman!

Sadly, it appears as though the moderators at The Hollywood Reporter and Superhero Hype aren’t very interested in having a frank conversation about what, exactly, is going on. (Note: their behavior is the raison d’être for blogs like this.)

Hollywood Ancient One“Careful. I just asked the same thing and THR already deleted my comment.”

Telling, isn’t it? Years ago I remember walking around on the Marvel message boards on eggshells because Orwellian moderators were always ready to stomp out “problematic” voices.

Supherohype Ancient One SwintonThat is what the politically correct crowd does — they engage in weird behavior and then try to silence or shame anyone who dares to question their judgment. Guys like Michael B. Jordan pen self-congratulatory opinion pieces on why Fantastic Four fans are all a bunch of racist trolls for wanting to keep Johnny Storm’s silver screen portrayal white. Guys like Dan Slott start talking about Jim Crow laws when it comes to Peter Parker fans who want him kept white.

Question for Michael B. Jordan and Dan Slott: Why do so-called racists now want a role meant for an Asian man to go to an Asian man? I suppose their latent hatred for women (including their mothers, grandmothers, and sisters) trumps their hatred for Asians.

The good news is that Marvel Studios has a strong track record when it comes to making entertaining movies and Tilda Swinton takes her craft seriously. Fans are willing to forgive casting missteps if the fare delivers. Regardless, it still seems incredibly odd that Marvel and Disney apparently can’t find a single Asian man — in the entire world — who can live up to the demands of the role. 

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

11 comments

  1. Did you ever see the “Generation X” pilot movie that aired on FOX back in ’96? The actress that played Jubilee (her name escapes me at the moment; I wanna say Heather McComb) was white. It caused a bit of a stir among X-Fans, but since the project never became a series, any controversy and complaints just kinda tapered off. I remember reading an interview with the director, and he basically said, “We auditioned lots of people, but Heather was the best one who came in.”

    This current case, though, seems more like they’re not even trying to cast an Asian man. I really have no problem with Tilda Swinton being cast in the role. Still, as you said, Dan Slott has a noted track record on this subject. Same for Mark Waid and all the other Marvel bozos in response to criticism of such developments as She-Thor, retconned gay Iceman, and the color-coded Avengers. Somehow, I doubt they’ll openly criticize the company for this… though it would be fun to provoke them and get a stammering “Well, this is different” response.

    1. It is rather fun to see guys like Mr. Slott ties themselves into politically correct pretzels in situations like this. “Wait, so you’re saying that turning an Asian character white isn’t acceptable … unless it’s with a white woman? What if I replaced the Asian character with a gay black man? Would that still be fine, or is it only okay if it’s a woman? I’m so confused right now, Dan Slott. Help us understand.” 🙂

  2. This is just bizarre. I have nothing against Tilda Swinton, she’s a good actress, but if they want to cast a woman as the Ancient One, why not Asian actresses like Michelle Yeoh, Lucy Liu or Ziyi Zhang, to name just three examples? And I’m not surprised the moderators at the Hollywood Reporter and Superhero Hype are censoring people who are calling out Marvel on this move.

    That said, I’ll still see the Doctor Strange movie come 2016.

    1. What strikes me as interesting is that the people who had their comments go down the Memory Hole seem a bit baffled. It’s like, “Ummm, I wasn’t even trolling. I just made a pretty basic point and they torpedoed my comment. What the heck?”

  3. It’s a shame, they just cast Chinese megastar Fan Bing-Bing as Blink in Days of Future Past; it might be cool to have a chance to give her a bigger role. I think it’s dumb for it to be a woman in the first place, but if you’re going to go with a woman, why not a huge star from Asia? She’d even have a real accent, which would be appropriate to the character.

    1. If you’re going to go with a woman, why not a huge star from Asia? She’d even have a real accent, which would be appropriate to the character.

      We can’t risk the accent because it may come across as raaaaaaaacist — even for a character from Tibet. 😉

  4. Personally I’d wish they’d cast an asian actor with a sense of gravitas like Chow Yun Fat (after all the character is called the ancient one).

    The reason being is that you need an actor that could go toe to toe with Cumberbatch on screen.

  5. I haven’t read much Dr Strange but I thought the Ancient One was a “good guy’.

    Surely they could write the role in a way that wasn’t clichéd?

    Probably a bit silly but could this be a case of pandering to the Chinese government so it doesn’t ban the film?

    1. If Marvel is scared about how he was drawn years ago, then it wouldn’t matter if he was a good guy. The exaggerated features that earlier artists used might be enough to have them say, “Let’s not go there because who knows what the Tumblr kids will come up with…”.

      I think this was talked about before, but these days you’ll have characters like Cindy Moon (aka: Silk), and if you look at her she could be Mexican, Brazilian, Korean, Japanese, etc. because the artists seem to shy away from including any details that would cue readers in to a character’s true heritage.

      Pandering to China is a real possibility. That’s happened before (e.g., Men In Black III), and they’re prickly about anything that covers Tibet. That is an observation worth exploring once the movie comes out.

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