““Doctor Strange,” the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, follows eponymous hero Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) as he navigates his way through an unlikely origin story that heavily involves the teachings of an enlightened elder – known as The Ancient One – who sets him on the path to both righteousness and cape-clad ass-kicking. In the original comics, The Ancient One is portrayed as an older gentleman of Tibetan descent. In director Scott Derrickson’s film, the character is played by Tilda Swinton.
Unsurprisingly, the project has faced continued criticism for its casting of Swinton as the character, though Marvel brass and the film’s creative team have long maintained that their casting choice came after the character was already changed with the express purpose to avoid racist undertones. As Swinton explained to IndieWire in a recent interview, the “Doctor Strange” team aimed to circumvent the original character by radically changing many of his trademark attributes.
“Scott [Derrickson] will tell you that he made this very clear decision with Kevin Feige and the whole team to change The Ancient One from the rather, what they considered, offensive racial stereotype in the comic books,” Swinton explained. “This kind of Fu Manchu, ancient man sitting on top of a mountain called The Ancient One. They made this decision to not perpetuate those racial stereotypes.”
Those changes made it possible to cast someone like Swinton – a white woman – ostensibly in hopes that by radically changing the character, it would not be perceived as racist. That’s not what happened, though Swinton’s recollection of the controversy is different.
“As far as I understand it, and I wasn’t completely up to speed on it, but I’m told that when my casting was announced, everyone was pretty stoked about it and there wasn’t an outcry at all,” Swinton said. “And then there was the first trailer, which people were also supportive of.”
When Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One was announced back in May of 2015, fans were mostly excited about yet another talented performer joining the MCU fray, though there was some initial confusion about how she would play a role originally imagined as a male Tibetan mystic…”