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 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

Megan Purdy

Publisher of all this. Megan was born in Toronto. She's still there. Philosopher, space vampire, heart of a killer.

55 thoughts on “That Dr. Strange Trailer Sure Is Awful

  1. Wow, rotten tomatoes critics and viewers put this is in the 90%! I just saw it yesterday and it was awesome! The trailer gave nothing away and it is chockful of cool special effects and very well.placed humor within a very interesting plot. I loved this movie from smooth start to smooth finish. It is one of marvels best productions. Benedict Cumberbatch played it to a tee!

  2. I honestly would’ve been down with a movie showcasing an Asian-American Dr. Strange. Same premise, same “I don’t belong” type of feeling-especially if he can’t speak (or speaks very little) of the language his parents/grandparents speak. The Ancient One could have been kept the same as the comics, or they could’ve still gone with a woman, but made her Tibetan. There was a way this movie could have been done respectfully. Now it’s just a bunch of white people doing weird stuff set in the backdrop of a vague “Asian” culture. And before people scream about the comics, Marvel has played fast and loose with comic canon before-especially in regards to the background of certain characters (Wanda Maximoff) so I don’t see why they suddenly had to be faithful here.

  3. I truly won’t do that again. I had the view that the group discussion wasn’t the site people moderating, similar to a cafe level open discussion. You have given me a good lesson. I am new to actually responding comment-wise to anything on the net, so very sorry with emphasis..

  4. I own copies of both Strange Tales #110 and Amazing Adventures #1. Neither Dr Strange nor Dr Droom (Druid) was ever Asian.

  5. Simon, you’re the Straight White Guy. Most of the stories are about you with everyone else playing second string. So, I understand why your “not sure”. Again Strange is a 50+ year old property from a different time in American history. The majority of the mover and shakers at Marvel and Disney are white. All of those characters from the late 1800s into the 1970s took the most “exotic” aspects of cultures their creators used to write the stories. Doctor Strange is among that number.

    So, how about some of us getting together to create our own culturally accurate and relevant stories for comics, games and cinema?

  6. I’m not sure if this has been touched on either, but Marvel have moved the movie from Tibet to Nepal, presumably so as not to offend the Chinese market on release. Something the Tibetan people are calling foul on too, so it’s a racist mess that way too, I mean, apart from the Rich White Guy learning Mystical Asian Secrets ™ from the Rich White Lady.

    And while this isn’t visible in the trailer, is it going to be remotely likely that the Rich White English Lady might just have Asian servants and lackeys in her mountaintop citadel? I rather fear it might be.

    But we shall see I suppose. Ain’t looking good though is it.

  7. Wow, y’all should pick up an actual comic. Doctor Strange is the Sorceror Supreme. His magic isn’t “Tibetan.” It’s cosmic, if anything. And “The Ancient One” is a title, not a person. I, for one, am glad Marvel is trying to codeswitch this stereotype.

    1. Thank you.. People, this is not an asian movie. Dr. Strange is in the realm of mystical occult sciences. Would it help the critics here if he went to study amongst the Northern Europe wiccan origins? The trailer makes me want to ask the theaters, please dont make us wait until November!!! hahaha… (ok that was overdoing it a little, uh sorry)

  8. 1. I agree that the trailer was a mess. I watched it and basically thought who cares. I felt no connection with the character Doctor Strange.

    2. I think part of the reason this became such a mess is a lack of imagination, within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, around issues of diversity. While within the comic universe there are the beginnings of diversification the movies are still extremely white male centered. In this and many recent cases the conversation should be how can we make this property more diverse.

    Have a lead character cast as someone who is the majority has little to no impact on that majority while having a lead character cast as someone who is a minority can have a much bigger impact.

    This trailer and the movie more generally are not “bad” but are horribly horribly missed opportunities to make a difference, connect with more viewers, and make more money.

    1. Would the Iron Man franchise be as big as it is if Don Cheadle or Terrance Howard were cast as the titular character instead of Robert Downey, Jr.? If you want greater diversity, I don’t think looking at the Marvel or DC movie franchises are the places to start.

      1. Well remember, casting Robert Downey Jr was seen as a very very big risk at the time, he wasn’t a big name, and he had a very bad reputation as a hard-drinking hard-drugging hard-womanising bad boy. He was not the natural choice to pick as the lead in this grand new experiment Marvel were conducting with movies.

        And why not look for greater diversity in the Marvel/DC franchises? They’re immense gears of social/cultural content. Millions of people watch them and love them. And would it impact any of our enjoyment of this movie if The Ancient One had been played by an Asian actor? Lucy Lui or Joan Chen instead of Tilda Swinton? Just, why not, y’know? Why choose an actor that upsets and offends a lot of people when they could pick an actor that would still be perfect for the part, ~and~ be culturally sensitive and appropriate?

        1. People only think about race when they are the excluded party. On some level a movie is a piece of art and a vision of its creator(s). I agree with your suggestions about possible actors for the Ancient One. However, what if none of the actors you mentioned wanted to be a part of the MCU? Also, art will always offend or exclude someone.

          1. I’m not sure if I agree with you about people only thinking about race when they are the excluded party. I’m a Straight White Guy ™ and the first thing I thought on watching the Strange trailer was crikey, that’s a bit dodgy innit? And then I came online and found out that there is indeed a big kerfuffle about it.

            And sure, it’s possible that no female Asian actors were available to take the part, but I find it hard to believe. Who doesn’t want a payday this big? And the odd thing about it is Hollywood really has a lot to gain by pushing more Asian actors in their movies, China as a market is arguably more important now than the American market. And yet Hollywood remains weirdly resistant to the idea.

  9. Dr Strange was literally Asian in the original comic, and became whiter and whiter as time progressed. (See @dresdencodak for his incredible arguments in regards to this whitewashing)

    1. Dr. Droom (later Dr. Druid) was a white man who became Asian after he gained his powers. I will admit there are panels of Ditko’s Dr. Strange where the character looks Asian in the earliest stories; however, Strange was never Asian.

    2. No.

      Steve Ditko based Dr. Strange entirely on Vincent Price …specifically, his role in “The Raven.”

  10. Oh boy, here goes:

    1.) Doctor Strange has always been white. ALWAYS.
    2.) The Ancient One is now a woman and androgynous looking. Diversity yo.
    3.) Black Baron Mordo, a character that’s always been white. DIVERSITY.
    4.) He was created in 1963 not the 70s.
    5.) I’m sorry this film is visually distinct from the rest of the Marvel movies, and actually doesn’t give everything away in the trailer.

    Please for the love of good read a fucking comic before you cry racism.

        1. Careful Joe! Too much fury will give you a heart attack. You should stop reading our site right now! Or you might, by human physicality, accidentally die of rage.

  11. “no actual Asian people in the main cast that we’ve known about for several months now? ”

    Uhh, Benedict Wong would like to have a word with you. It’s just a teaser geez. Save this vitriol after seeing the full content of the film upon release

    1. Is he in the trailer? No. Wong’s character has always been described as a “manservant” by other media outlets since Benedict’s casting announcement. Yes, the one Asian man in the main cast is being called a “manservant” for a white man who is the white chosen one of Asian culture. Wong’s existence in the movie does not negate the other racist aspects of the rest of the film, even if his character is one of value he’s still a sidekick in white Dr. Strange’s heroic journey of appropriating various Asian cultures.

      1. It’s a teaser trailer. The overly negative review of a movie none of you have seen is perplexing.

        1. What’s perplexing is your failure to understand the actual point of the piece. They are literally critiquing the teaser trailer itself on how well it does its job. They’re not reviewing the movie at all.

          The job of a trailer is supposed to make a viewer want to see the movie. If the trailer fails in that mission, it’s a bad trailer. This trailer has failed pretty spectacularly in that regard.

          1. I get the role of a trailer and what they were discussing. I think what perplexes me is the overwrought reaction to the lack of Asian actors in the trailer. The movie is called Doctor Strange, not Wong or The Ancient One. Why should they or anyone else be shocked if there is dearth Asian actor when it’s a Jewish American creation from 1963?

            Also, to some degree they are reviewing the movie. The trailer is a visual synopsis of the movie. Their judgement is based on what they didn’t see not what they saw.

            Thanks for your comment.

  12. Not going to see it. Just not. Probably won’t get it from the library either. I might just go so far as to pirate this one if I’m still interested in it come its release.

    I already was not going to theaters until Black Panther (where Marvel’s concerned, anyway) as it’s FINALLY something different, but this film in particular is just making me more and more upset. And I’m white!

    Gods, please no sequel if this trailer is indicative.

  13. Desiree, Doctor Strange showed up in the early sixties. Despite most of theses reviews for a trailer being a bit overwrought, you have valid observations regarding the Britishness of the main cast. However, you should not forget the source material or who created it In addition to white male power fantasy, Doctor Strange is a property the company can use as they see fit. In other words, you can’t tell me not to hire a white woman to play an aged Asian man. Also, if we have a proliferation of creators for comics and cinema instead of critics, we might just have more diverse offerings

    Again, Desiree, I agree with on the question regarding Strange’s ethnicity. In 2016, anyone could be strange. In 1963, the character would be white and male. Doctor Droom (later Druid), however, was a white man who becomes Asian after he gains his powers.

    I do have a question for all of you: Do you think your opinion would change about the movie once you actually see it?

  14. Wow. Okay.

    Megan Purdy,

    The purpose of the film is to tell a story about the origin and adventures of Dr. Strange. The target audience consists of fans of the property, the Marvel Universe in general, and fans of superhero films at large. The same ones who go to see Ant Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc. There is a Doctor Strange film for the same reason that there is an Ant Man film. Marvel has the IP and they want to monetize it. I’m not sure I know what fans you’re talking about. Is there a large contingent of Marvel fans who are averse to the idea of producing a Doctor Strange film? I have not seen anyone arguing that there shouldn’t be a Doctor Strange film. If there are some fans making that argument they are VERY few and far between, so I don’t see why Marvel should care about what those people think.

    Yes, clearly this film is influenced by The Matrix and Inception. That is not a flaw. There’s nothing wrong with paying homage to other films. The Matrix itself ripped that training scene off of Drunken Master with Jackie Chan — just one of many, many, many films (among works of other mediums) The Matrix “ripped off.” Inception itself, by Christopher Nolan’s own admission pays homage to The Matrix and other reality-bending movies of 1999. It’s appropriate that this film reference other films about reality-hopping because this is one of the central and defining aspects of Dr. Strange stories, as referenced in the trailer itself.

    Ray Sonne,

    This is a teaser trailer. The questions you have about who Strange is, why he goes to Tibet will be answered by the story. It’s a little irrational to expect the entire story to be disclosed in a two minute teaser trailer. That’s not what they’re for.

    Tilda Swinton, or The Ancient One, is based in Tibet but does not practice “Tibetan Magic. She/he (the gender of the Ancient One is meant to be ambiguous in this film) practices the sorcery of the Marvel Universe. Strange wants to develop his ability to practice magic because it will heal his hands, enabling him to practice surgery again. There are actually several villains in this film, but Marvel seems to be playing this close to the chest in the interest of preserving surprises for the story, which is generally a good idea and very considerate of them. The rest of your points are inane or better articulated by your fellow writers so I’ll address them elsewhere.

    Angel Cruz,

    The trailer is not a piece of cinema. It’s a trailer. It’s no different in substance than any other trailer. It is not meant to convey the entire story. Calling it lazy is nonsensical. What orientalist stereotypes are you talking about? There are no Asian characters in this trailer. The Ancient One, who is Asian in the comics, has been recast as a ungendered white person. I imagine that this was done in order to avoid the Magical Minority trope, which is thoughtful on their part. I think it would be more offensive to have Strange learn from some wise old Asian man. I was also thankful that the Mandarin was changed so as not to present an offensive stereotype. Your point about Hollywood’s deference to white men to the detriment of other kinds of humans is a fair one. Your next point, however, betrays a misunderstanding of the source material.

    There is no appropriation of Tibetan, Chinese, or South Asian culture here. The magic practiced by the Ancient One, Baron Mordo, and Doctor Strange is not Asian in origin. It is practiced throughout the world, throughout history, and across cultures in the Marvel Universe. There have been American, African, Asian, European, and Latino Sorcerer Supremes. The Ancient One currently resides in Tibet in this film. Also, I see no real indication aside from Swinton’s outfit that any overtly Asian cultural artifacts are in use. I can go with you as far as an argument that white people do not have the right to tell Asian stories, but this is not an Asian story. It’s a story about a white American guy who GOES to a fictionalized version of Asia in order to learn magic that has nothing to do with Asian culture. If this were a story about a white guy who goes to Asian and learns how to be better at Asian stuff than Asians are — like in the case of Iron Fist — I could go with you. But this is not that. As a person of Asian heritage, or any person for that matter, you are free to ignore or acknowledge these films as to your liking.

    Laura Harcourt and Desiree Rodriguez

    I believe I’ve addressed your points by addressing the points of your fellow writers. However, I agree that there is no reason Doctor Strange must be white.

    1. “It’s a story about a white American guy who GOES to a fictionalized version of Asia in order to learn magic that has nothing to do with Asian culture.”

      Then why the set and costume designs? Why even have them go to an Asian country if that culture has no relevance? Why not set it in fucking France where there isn’t a history of narrative featuring white Americans going to that country and learning how to be a mime?

      Yeah, Doctor Strange should dress like a mime instead of robes so that you can tell us that there’s clearly nothing French going on.

      1. >Then why the set and costume designs?

        Because the Ancient One lives in Tibet. Doesn’t it make sense that they use sets and some of the accouterments of Tibetan culture? Is that totally off-limits?

        >Why even have them go to an Asian country if that culture has no relevance?

        Because the world is bigger than America. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the team goes to South Africa to tussle with Ultron while he visits Ulysses Klaw, the miner and thief of Vibranium. There is no real reason of them to be in South Africa. The culture has no relevance to the story at all. But the storytellers want to convey that there is an entire world out there, and the story can be told in other places. They also go to South Korea at one point. The culture is similarly irrelevant.

        >Why not set it in fucking France where there isn’t a history of narrative featuring white Americans going to that country and learning how to be a mime?

        This sentence is incomprehensible to me. They very easily could’ve set it in France. They didn’t. This story was written in a time when Asia was exoticized in a way that is obviously problematic. In my opinion, removing the aspects of the story which present Asian people as “others” or “magical” goes a long way towards obviating the racist elements of the original story. Having the character simply go to Tibet is not problematic, at least in my view.

        1. I like your explanation. I was irritated about the Master getting changed to Tilda, but in viewing it from the perspective of which would more enrage the racial sensitivity advocates, I agree a stereotype of wise old asian guy would have been far worse. Although, it still doesn’t look watchable to me, because of the Tilda change and giving Benedict an American accent. Should have just let him be British really.

    2. Many people here, including the commentators of the article, should take a good deep look at what snowsandrivers is explaining. Great things said! I personally loved the trailer. I loved the part of the trailer, of him being knocked into a spontaneous oobe, a first in the marvel movies, wow! Anybody feel the cool euphoria of that, or were you too busy just getting all jacked up in unfounded prejudgement instead? (Look again, with a little less ego in your eyes) When you are hyper critical it tends to make you blind and rob you of some super cool fantasy fun. C’mon guys, the movie is a great debut of Dr. Strange’s rising to his mysticism in the occult sciences within the realm of the marvel world, not specific to Asian culture. Its not a detailed documentary titled, “the typical days of a monk in tibet and the offensiveness to other people, of a poliyicalky incorrect white person coming to spoil it all.”
      People shouldnt get ultra critical of something so easily discernable. Read Dr. Strange of marvel comics before you put both feet in your mouth. The movie looks like a cool ride on something not all the way explained (which, by the way, IS “sort of” the intended purpose of a trailer. I am more than a little surprised of how much bad mouth there is for a trsiler that makes this movie looks like a nice delicate blend of my all time favorite power movies from one of the coolest marvel comic characters!

        1. Its an acronym for out of body experience. I’ve had only one. A true one will startle you silly and make you never see life, and thus reality, the same again, a real reality twister. (Wish i could have a repeater though, have tried numerous times. It was amazing. Whats it like? It’ll make you do and look like the exact expression on cumberbatch’s face when he was sent flyin’ (same feeling). I will say that much haha.. By the way, have to ask this: is there anyone reading this that can help me repeat it? If so, please do speak up. I could use that help.

          1. Thanks for explaining. In return, I’ll explain that it IS very bad manners to come to an analytical site and say that the people producing the work on it should think less — not get “ultra critical” — about the media that they observe. Dont do it again.

          2. I’ve heard getting really good at meditation can bring on out of body experiences, which seems a safer area for experimentation than hallucinogens.

          3. I am ok with this being dropped but i got a very mean slap in the face for my honest though strong comment..zenic responding to ian pretty demeaning and insulting and since its in favor of the commentators, zenic’s comment is fine. Seems like there is only one side allowing rudeness. Thats not nice and not fair. Takes away a persons belief that this serves any purpose here.. shame on this ego party. I know you wont post this and perhaps YOU all need a lesson in basic interaction in this world. Have fun with your one sidedness. (Wow, some people in life make me wonder they dont see their own egos for what they are, little immature kids complaining in the townsquare, and playing with themselves too, though i wont say tuat word, you know it). Enjoy working this out in your own hearts… or not…

        2. Oh one more thing, i will state here. I dont reply much to sites so i am new to posting “gently”. I do appreciate the moderators. They kept me in with my borderline tone. Major kudos for that. I did not actually know i was going to be approved by the ones discussing this. Thank you thank you. I re-read what i first said and was not trying to hurt toes. So i will say to them publicly, thanks for approving a guy who still has things to learn about eh, his tone in posting : )

    3. So…Dr. Strange, as a story, was set in the 1960’s. A fascination with “Orientalism” was quite high in the culture. Dr. Strange’s mystical mansion was set in, I believe, Greenwich Village. The design featured lots of film noir-ish framing and shadow-casting window dressings. These were hip at the time and are still very pleasant. The art and the character design were the work of the Mighty Mighty Steve Ditko, now seemingly forgotten. The comic looked fabulous and the fantasies were fun. The whole think has a kind of beatnik-turned-acid head feel to it. Tibet is referenced but this is a New York story in the same way Spider Man is. Where else could Dr. Strange live and not be particularly noticed? If you want to be critical, read and love the comic, and compare the movie to that. And remember Steve Ditko, who was also the original artist on Spider Man.

  15. the explosions and graphics are very pretty, very slick. though that’s why orientalism is perpetuated, isn’t it – nobody would like the lens so much if it weren’t prettied up. when will we get beautiful movies without racism?

    1. 90 seconds that featured Asian mysticism, Asian locations, Asian-inspired attire — but no actual Asian people in the main cast that we’ve known about for several months now? Ah you’re right. We’re jumping to conclusions. The rest of the movie will probably take place in America Town, United States with everyone wearing jeans and crocs and t-shirts.

      1. actually it starts in America, goes to Tibet, flash forward a few years and returns to America, the main plot takes place in America, the only part of the plot that takes place in asia are the call, and the denial of the call.

        1. the locations used in filming are US, nepal, UK and china…and the only location filmed in china was in hongkong…so where the f* does tibet come from?? get ur geography right before acting know-it-all

    2. Ctrl+F finds no instance of “cultural appropriation”, but not like you read the article anyway, right? 😉

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