Doctor Strange Star Explains How Trying To Avoid Stereotypes Caused Racism Backlash

Doctor Strange has undergone reevaluation because of one controversial character.

By Charlene Badasie | Published

This article is more than 2 years old

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When it comes to television and movies these days representation is everything. A single misstep can lead to tarnished reputations or even job losses. So when Marvel’s Ancient One was introduced as a caucasian woman in Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Fiege was met with a plethora of white-washing accusations from angry fans.

In Marvel comic book lore, the Ancient One is an elderly Tibetan man. But in Doctor Strange, the character is played by Tilda Swinton, a white actress who reprised the role in Avengers: Endgame. Since then, Kevin Feige said he regretted casting a white actor as the character. His comments came in an interview with Men’s Health, promoting Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It is the first movie from Marvel Studios that will feature an Asian character as the lead character.

Now, in a new interview with Variety, Swinton recalls learning about the whitewashing controversy surrounding her casting and praised Feige for coming forward and expressing regret. Looking back, Swinton refers to the situation as a “hot, sticky, gnarly moment” that was uncomfortable but necessary for the industry to move forward.

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“I remember at the time having a question mark in my own mind and being attendant to the public response to the idea that a Scottish woman will be playing this character and being aware that there was no resistance at all. There was widespread welcome, which shifted at a certain point, for very good reasons with which I had an enormous amount of sympathy,” Swinton tells the publication.

The Doctor Strange star also said she has regrets of her own and recalled an incident when comedian Margaret Cho was offended when asked, “why Asian people were so mad.”

“I made a questionable decision to reach out to somebody in a certain way, which was naive and clearly confusing because their misunderstanding came about because of it,” said Swinton. “I was embarrassed that I had maybe gone up a blind alley in starting the correspondence in the first place. Maybe I had confused matters, but beyond that, I have zero regrets.”

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Written and directed by Scott Derrickson, 2016’s Doctor Strange served as the introduction of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The origin story chronicled Strange’s time as a neurosurgeon and the debilitating injury that forced him to turn to the mystic arts to regain the use of his hands.

Doctor Strange has also appeared in various other Marvel movies and will be getting a sequel in 2022. The film is directed by Sam Raimi who will be working from a script that’s been rewritten by Michael Waldron. It was originally penned by newcomer, Jade Halley Bartlett. Interestingly, Waldron is no stranger to Marvel properties. He is currently the showrunner for Marvel’s Loki series (starring Tom Hiddleston) which is said to have strong story links to the film.

Set after the events of Avengers: Endgame and WandaVision, the story follows Doctor Strange as he continues his research on the Time Stone. But his work is hindered by a friend-turned-enemy, causing him to unwittingly unleashing an unspeakable evil.

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The movie will see Benedict Cumberbatch reprise his role as Doctor Stephen Strange, along with Elizabeth Olsen as the Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff, Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo.

Meanwhile, Marvel Studios remains committed to increasing diversity in their films. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will feature a predominantly Asian cast, while Eternals boasts Marvel’s most diverse superhero lineup yet. The Doctor Strange sequel will continue this trend by introducing Latinx LGBTQ hero America Chavez.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is currently scheduled for release on March 25, 2022.