Another Day, Another Whitewash: Tilda Swinton in Talks with Marvel to Play Asian Character in Dr. Strange

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.

Immortal Iron Fist #6, cover by David Aja

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.

Desiree Rodriguez

Desiree Rodriguez

Desiree Rodriguez is currently majoring in Converged Communications. She's a writer, geek girl, and proud queer mestiza woman. Desiree is an entertainment writer for The Tempest, and contributor for Nerds of Color. Desiree has written for The Young Folks, The Feminist Wire, and Geeked Out Nation.

6 thoughts on “Another Day, Another Whitewash: Tilda Swinton in Talks with Marvel to Play Asian Character in Dr. Strange

  1. But isn’t the Ancient One part of the Racist Trope that recognizes Asians as only Mysterious beings whose sole purpose is giving knowledge to the white man? I mean, i haven’t read that much doctor Strange but in the wrong hands it can even give slight Fu Manchu (who is like racist characters 101 right?) vibe. I prefer a genderswapped Tilda Swinton to a racist token that would only serve as a plot point to a white guy but again i may biased cause i consider Tilda Swinton to be a world treasure.

    The iron Fist one is really stupid tho. Even from a marketing point of view going with a white guy is a mistake i think.

  2. Iron Fist doesn’t bother me. This is because he’s an outsider in K’un Lun as a white guy but when he goes back to the West now he’s the outsider and has the get used to how things were.
    That they have change the race and sex of the Ancient One bothers me. Btw Dr. Strange went to India in the comic. You can look it up. But instead of an old Asian man with a father son relationship we now have a young white woman. Notice how they didn’t gender swap Dr Strange himself. The Asian guy? Who cares!

  3. Does the race of the Ancient One matter? Is the race of the Ancient One what defines him (since the character has always been an Asian man)? Eh, not really. I feel like they could easily go the route of an ancient entity that requires no race or gender, and only presents itself as a woman as a means to an end.

    If the Ancient One was an old Asian guy, they run the risk of tokenism and/or falling into the mystical and mysterious Asian guy who will train Dr. Strange in the “ancient, mysterious ways of” blah blah blah. Maybe they’re picking their battles here and maybe they’re fucking up in picking those battles.

    That Iron Fist is a white guy has always bugged me.

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