While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has churned out hit after hit over the past eight years, the studio has come under fire at times for its lack of diversity, particularly hwne it comes to female heroes. The studio made a rather surprising move last summer by casting Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange, a character depicted as a Tibetan male in the comics. The studio was praised for casting a female in a male role, but they simultaneously came under fire for "whitewashing" the Asian role. Actress Tilda Swinton spoke out about the controversy for the first time last night, revealing that she was never asked to play an Asian character.
"Well, it's not actually an Asian character - that's what I need to tell you about it. I wasn't asked to play an Asian character, you can be very well assured of that. You just have to wait and see, because it's not an Asian character."
Unfortunately, the actress wouldn't elaborate any further in her interview with The Hollywood Reporter. The Doctor Strange trailer debuted earlier this month, and just a few days later, fans got their first look at Paramount's Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson as Kusanagi, who is a Japanese woman in the original Kodansha Comics manga, which started plenty of debate about Hollywood's "whitewashing" practices. Recent movies such as Pan, Aloha and Gods of Egypt have come under fire for casting white actors in ethnic roles.
With more than six months left until Doctor Strange hits theaters on November 4, it remains to be seen how this controversy will affect the movie's box office performance. Marvel had initially been seeking male actors for the Ancient One, but producer Kevin Feige revealed in an interview from December that the studio is always looking for ways to change things up from the comics. Here's what he had to say in that interview below, revealing how they landed on Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One.
"We're never afraid to change things. In the comic books, Jarvis is an elderly white butler. In the movies, he's an A.I. system which becomes Paul Bettany's Vision. So, we always are looking for ways to change things. I think if you look at some of the early incarnations of the Ancient One in the comics, they are what we would consider today to be quite, sort of, stereotypical. They don't hold up to what would work today. Also, within the storyline of our movie, the Ancient One is a title that many people have had. So, as we were looking, frankly, to diversify the film, we hit very early on, 'What if the Ancient One was a woman? What if the title had been passed and the current Ancient One is a woman? Oh, that's an interesting idea. Tilda Swinton! Whoah!' And it just hit.
Doctor Strange tells the story of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), an acclaimed neurosurgeon who uncovers the hidden world of magic and alternate dimensions after a near-fatal car accident. The cast also includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amy Landecker, Scott Adkins and Mads Mikkelsen, with Scott Derrickson directing from a script by Jon Spaihts. We'll have to wait and see if the controversy around Tilda Swinton's Ancient One continues to grow as we get closer and closer to the November 4 release of Doctor Strange.