That Dr. Strange Trailer Sure Is Awful

That Dr. Strange Trailer Sure Is Awful

The Dr. Strange trailer. So... it’s here. We hated it. Here’s why: Megan Purdy: This seems like a trailer for four movies in one: The Matrix, Inception, Eat Pray Love and a watery wuxia ripoff for white America. It’s visually confused and so derivative that it makes no argument for its own existence. It

The Dr. Strange trailer. So… it’s here.

We hated it. Here’s why:

Megan Purdy: This seems like a trailer for four movies in one: The Matrix, Inception, Eat Pray Love and a watery wuxia ripoff for white America. It’s visually confused and so derivative that it makes no argument for its own existence. It relies entirely on exoticism and flash: here is a proud white man brought low, walking into the East to meet his destiny, and inevitably, become not just any old magician, but the Sorcerer Supreme. First Benedict Cumberbatch was Khan Noonien Singh — not just any old nemesis of Captain Kirk, but an Asian warlord who ruled a future territory spreading from South East Asia to the Middle East — and now he’s a white doctor learning magic in Tibet. The Ancient One, a Tibetan mystic and sorcerer played by fellow white Brit Tilda Swinton, is his Morpheus, who we meet in a scene that’s straight ripped from The Matrix.

What do I know about this film, based on this trailer? It’s, well, pretty damn racist, and it doesn’t seem to have a clear purpose or audience in mind. Why is there a Dr. Strange movie? Because Marvel could make one? Why would they do this after all the criticism from their fans? Well. Because they don’t care. 

Ray Sonne: Okay, putting aside how horrifyingly offensive this trailer is because I’m not the best person to discuss it, what the hell? A trailer, as an effective marketing tool, is supposed to give the audience a basic idea of the movie’s story and characters without spoiling any surprises. But when you watch this trailer, you’re basically receiving a bunch of scattered details that make zero damn sense.

So Benedict Cumberbatch is a doctor who did good doctor things?

But then something bad happens to him and, oh no, he has bruise makeup on his face?

So he goes to… some undefined part of Asia, which other people need to tell me is Tibet? Why does he do this? I suppose I would have some idea if I had an inkling of this guy’s personality or background, but alas.

He meets Tilda Swinton, who is living in Tibet and knows “Tibetan” magic because… what? And then…Cumberbatch learns magic and shit? And apparently he has potential, but why does he want to explore his potential in corny magic instead of, like, dog-training?

If you were expecting some big bad villain who hammers home the theme and the main source of conflict, haha joke’s on you.

It’s very bewildering because, pretending there’s no Marvel hype in the world, what are people supposed to take from this? Hey, if you want a movie that recycles visual effects from last year’s blockbusters and contains the spectacle of creepy, racist magic, this is the film for you? Man, Marvel’s getting bold in all the worst ways.

Angel Cruz: This trailer is less infuriating than it is a lazy, inconsiderate piece of cinema being offered to people who are much smarter than Marvel gives them credit for. It’s 2016, and we are still being fed orientalist stereotypes that are given free rein to continue damaging people with Asian heritage–for what? Reaffirmation that white narratives will always be more valued? A reminder that Hollywood still believes that Asian stories have no validity without a white person at the center, controlling and living that narrative better than any Asian person ever could?

It’s exhausting, yes, to see Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton slinking into roles that so clearly appropriating Chinese, Tibetan, and South Asian cultures. Their acting abilities aren’t in question here, just their acceptance that they have the right to tell these stories instead of Asian actors. It’s likewise exhausting to see all the nods to Asian art and motifs set in the background against white faces. But these are all unsurprising, uncreative choices that Marvel made, and that says far more about their mindset regarding their paying Asian audiences than it does about the people who protest those choices. They don’t care about me or people who look like me. So why should I or any other person with Asian heritage care to watch their films?

Laura Harcourt: I’m pretty convinced at this point that any Cumberbatch role is just Sherlock in a nicotine-haze trying to solve some nefarious crime, because it’s the only explanation for a Cumberbatch Strange. A Victorian England setting would also explain the over-the-top mystic orientalism, because there’s no way that’s a reasonable thing to propose in 2016 after getting slammed with criticism for the usage and treatment of The Mandarin, Black Sky, the Hand, and Iron Fist.

And yet, here we are, and people are arguing on Twitter about how Strange needs to be white, but that the casting of The Ancient One is a problem, totally missing the point that a white person out-Asianing Asians is an issue no matter what character we’re talking about.

Desiree Rodriguez: I understood the trailer because I know Dr. Strange’s origins, and backstory. I’ve written about them, and since then, Dr. Strange, as a movie, has only seemed to have gotten worse and worse. It’s a bunch of modge-podged East and South Asian cultural references pieced together to look magical and exotic without any Asian people shown. Each character in the trailer has adopted some bastardized form of East and South Asian cultural style yet none of them are Asian. Another movie that’s portraying an exotic, vaguely Asian culture entirely through the lens of white people. Okay, Marvel.

Strange, in the comics, is an arrogant, skilled surgeon who loses the ability to use his hands and basically falls off the wagon. Think Iron Man but with a doctor instead of a war profiteer. Strange then is seemingly “chosen” to be a candidate for Sorcerer Supreme because…reasons? Really, it was because it was the 70’s and white guys could do anything! Yay, white male power fantasies! So Strange goes to Tibet and learns humility and magic and boom! Excels at magic so much he gains the title of Sorcerer Supreme.

That story is now so dated it’s laughable. Can anyone truly provide me with an argument that proves Stephen Strange needs to be white? Other than, “that’s how it was in the comic.” Spider-man once had eight arms in the comics. Tony doesn’t drink (anymore) in the comics. Bucky was a child when he was teammates with Steve. Sam was originally a gang member. Don’t tell me Dr. Strange and Iron Fist have to be white because of comics canon when the movies change things all the time.


So, there you have it. The Doctor Strange trailer is bad, bad, and also bad. Is it possible to find something good in the movie itself? Is it even worth trying? What say you?

Megan Purdy

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