The Hollywood Reporter has reported (heh) that Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer, Trainwreck) is in talks with Marvel to play the Ancient One in the upcoming Dr. Strange film. It appears that if there’s one thing Hollywood is really good at, it’s whitewashing canonical characters of color from their adapted material.
In the comics, The Ancient One is the once Master of Dr. Strange, whose mission is to find and train the next Sorcerer Supreme. The Ancient One has always been known as Yao, born in the mystic city of Kamar-Taj, otherwise known as Tibet, China.
Yes, Yao, or The Ancient One, is Tibetan; Asian, not white. What is Swinton? White. I’m sure Marvel and others might believe they’re taking a risk or making a “brave” choice by casting a woman in what is originally a man’s role, but it’s not “bravery,” coming at the expense of a person of color.
This is especially troubling when you consider Dr. Strange’s own origins are a racist mish-mash of Tibetan and Chinese cultures, and Benedict Cumberbatch, a white, British man, has been cast as Dr. Strange.
Also troubling is the recent news that Ryan Phillipe is apparently in talks with Marvel to play Danny Rand, aka Iron Fist. Iron Fist is another character whose story and origin is heavily drenched with Asian history, aesthetics, and tropes, as exampled by various easter eggs in Netflix’s Daredevil.
Perhaps this is all being blown out of proportion. Perhaps Swinton won’t play a character of color in the upcoming Dr. Strange movie. Perhaps this won’t be another case in the long history of Hollywood whitewashing. Perhaps I’m just a cynic. Perhaps, given the overall history of Hollywood’s repeated whitewashing of characters of color, I’m completely justified in my ire and wary over this news.
The fact that Marvel is even considering casting Swinton as The Ancient One, a canonical character of color, in Dr. Strange, is ire-inducing enough.