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Doctor Strange writer uses Star Trek to explain Tilda Swinton's Ancient One

04.25.2016

tilda swinton, marvel studios, the ancient one, marvel cinematic universe, doctor strange

There has been a lot of conversation about the casting of Tilda Swinton in DOCTOR STRANGE as The Ancient One and the charges of "whitewashing" that go with having a white female play a character that has traditionally been an elderly Asian man in the Marvel comics. There are those who will wonder why an Asian actor couldn't have been chosen to play the part. There are others who will complain about so-called "gender swapping," employing some sort of gimmick to turn the character from male to female. Even more will complain about why anything at all has been changed from the source material, because it's always been that way and should never be altered at all as a result. 

Swinton herself recently offered up explanation that her casting will be explained in the final cut of the film, but, for now, no answer provided appears likely to satisfy any of the lines that have been drawn. However, C. Robert Cargill, one of the co-writers on the solo DOCTOR STRANGE film, recently sat down for a conversation with Double Toasted where he was asked about the creative choices made for The Ancient One. And in a very good explanation about all the difficulties faced in trying to find the right path to take, he invoked STAR TREK (WRATH OF KHAN, to be exact) to put things in perspective for the various sides of outrage.

The thing about the Ancient One is it is Marvel’s Kobayashi Maru. There is no other character in Marvel history that is such a cultural landmine, that is absolutely unwinnable. I’ve been reading a bunch of people talking about it and the really frustrating thing about it this week is that most of the people who have thoughts on it haven’t thought it all the way through and they go, ‘Why didn’t they just do this?’ And it’s like, I could tell you why. I could tell you why every single decision that involves the Ancient One is a bad one, and just like the Kobayashi Maru, it all comes down on which way you’re willing to lose.

The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in a very weird political place. He originates from Tibet, so if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that’s bullshit and risk the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.’ If we decide to go the other way and cater to China in particular and have him be in Tibet… if you think it’s a good idea to cast a Chinese actress as a Tibetan character, you are out of your damn fool mind and have no idea what the f*ck you’re talking about.

It's always easy to consider what the best way is to proceed with a particular property, given the standards and values that many of us share in the United States, but what many often fail to realize with these optimal solutions is that the rest of the world doesn't always think the same way we do - and that involves, gender, race, sexuality, etc. America is incredibly tolerant when compared to many other nations, and it isn't a far-fetched concept to believe we should use our power to attempt to change hearts and minds over time. However, when we're talking about private businesses - like a movie studio - that has a great deal of money at stake in an industry that relies greatly on global dollars now more than it ever has, it is a bit of a pipe dream to believe they are going to put idealistic principles over their bottom lines. They make attempt to make small strides whenever and wherever they can, but they're not going to lead on these sorts of issues. They'll be more than happy to follow once breakthroughs happen... but they're not going to be the ones taking the chances to push them, not on their dime.

As Cargill says, there really are no good choices... Just less degrees of bad that ultimately someone has to make the call on. Which is the most palatable way of losing? That's where Marvel's Ancient One decisions came from.

DOCTOR STRANGE arrives in theaters on November 4.

 

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Source: Double Toasted

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12:52PM on 04/26/2016
Horseshit.
Horseshit.
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+1
11:24AM on 04/26/2016
I always want the comic book version. Period.
HOWEVER
Baron Mordo is white - now he is black.
Doctor Strange is american - now English.
None of the actors in Hobbit were actual little people.
Wolverine isnt a Canadian actor.
Nick Fury is white, now black.
I mean how far do we take this? In any case I am a Doctor Strange fan - ie i read the comics. I am not ok with it personally, but the movie still looks incredible. I mean its a movie and movies are a business so i guess if Disney/Marvel
I always want the comic book version. Period.
HOWEVER
Baron Mordo is white - now he is black.
Doctor Strange is american - now English.
None of the actors in Hobbit were actual little people.
Wolverine isnt a Canadian actor.
Nick Fury is white, now black.
I mean how far do we take this? In any case I am a Doctor Strange fan - ie i read the comics. I am not ok with it personally, but the movie still looks incredible. I mean its a movie and movies are a business so i guess if Disney/Marvel thinks this is the right thing to do, then thats it. Also i assume the Ancient one can make himself look like whatever he wants - yeah i am making excuses, but still its possible!
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10:32AM on 04/26/2016
You had me up to "America is incredibly tolerant compared to most countries". No they're not, they're easily one of the most racist and discriminatory nations in the world.
You had me up to "America is incredibly tolerant compared to most countries". No they're not, they're easily one of the most racist and discriminatory nations in the world.
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12:06PM on 04/26/2016
Wow. You haven't traveled much, have you?
Wow. You haven't traveled much, have you?
7:55AM on 04/26/2016

top hit

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I work through this link. Go here... www.earnmore9.com
Started working at home! It is by far the best job I have ever had. I just recently purchased a Brand new BMW since getting a check for $25470 this 8-week past. I began this 4 months ago and I am now bringing home at least $120 per hour.
I work through this link. Go here... www.earnmore9.com
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11:55PM on 04/25/2016
ok, fine. i'll give them the tibet thing. we can't say the word "Tibet". but if that's the case, then why not an asian actor? i want that reason. was ken watanabe busy or something?
ok, fine. i'll give them the tibet thing. we can't say the word "Tibet". but if that's the case, then why not an asian actor? i want that reason. was ken watanabe busy or something?
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9:12PM on 04/25/2016

I love that explanation.....

Finally a Hollywood writer is honest about why they did something. Of course the fanboys are going to stomp and whine, but what he's saying is completely correct. The original character is a racist stereotype, it doesn't matter IN ANY WAY what race the "Ancient One" is, Tibet is a nightmare of politics (no matter how you choose to portray it), and it's EXACTLY what Batman Begins chose to do (with Ra's being played by an Irish actor).....funny, I don't recall the outcry over that one....
Finally a Hollywood writer is honest about why they did something. Of course the fanboys are going to stomp and whine, but what he's saying is completely correct. The original character is a racist stereotype, it doesn't matter IN ANY WAY what race the "Ancient One" is, Tibet is a nightmare of politics (no matter how you choose to portray it), and it's EXACTLY what Batman Begins chose to do (with Ra's being played by an Irish actor).....funny, I don't recall the outcry over that one....
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10:42PM on 04/25/2016
Why is the original character racist?
Why is the original character racist?
11:49PM on 04/25/2016
liam neeson as ra's al ghul is totally different for a couple of reasons.

first of all, it's liam fucking neeson. if he was playing the ancient one, people would be on board.

secondly, the white guy being ra's a; ghul was a key plot point to Batman Begins. it was the big twist at the end. in all of the early promos, as far as the audience (and bruce wayne) were concerned, ken watanabe was ra's al ghul. now that i think about it, it's the original mandarin.

finally, ra's al ghul
liam neeson as ra's al ghul is totally different for a couple of reasons.

first of all, it's liam fucking neeson. if he was playing the ancient one, people would be on board.

secondly, the white guy being ra's a; ghul was a key plot point to Batman Begins. it was the big twist at the end. in all of the early promos, as far as the audience (and bruce wayne) were concerned, ken watanabe was ra's al ghul. now that i think about it, it's the original mandarin.

finally, ra's al ghul isn't strictly asian. in fact, i'm not even sure he's asian at all. i always thought he was middle eastern or something.
2:34AM on 04/26/2016
He's racist for the same reason as The Mandarin. DC writers often gave one-dimensional, quasi-racist (at least as we see them now) portrayals. It wasn't out of spite, just ignorance (as most people were at the time). I'm sure you could do him with a deeper character arc that would incorporate grace and cultural sensitivity, but it would be difficult to shoe-horn in a film that's not actually about him in the first place. And again, you are playing with a really sensitive political issue if
He's racist for the same reason as The Mandarin. DC writers often gave one-dimensional, quasi-racist (at least as we see them now) portrayals. It wasn't out of spite, just ignorance (as most people were at the time). I'm sure you could do him with a deeper character arc that would incorporate grace and cultural sensitivity, but it would be difficult to shoe-horn in a film that's not actually about him in the first place. And again, you are playing with a really sensitive political issue if you're going to make him Tibetan (or if you don't).

Ikodl, I loved what they did with Neeson (and yeah.....it was Neeson), and I thought it worked brilliantly. Ra's could actually be anyone since he was someone who attained the title, not a resident of Nanda Parbat. But that's the same thing as The Ancient One. It's a person who attained a massive amount of magical power and is ages old. He teaches there, but nothing says he has to be Tibetan (despite him being that in the comics). He also would have the power to appear as anyone he would like, including a woman. Which is why all this complaining about "whitewashing" seems pointless to me. That is unless it is handled badly in the film.

8:47PM on 04/25/2016
Have Hollywood ever cast an actual Asian as a powerful wizard who lived in a secluded mythical place on the Tibetan mountains, and everybody was okay with it?
The Shadow knows.
Have Hollywood ever cast an actual Asian as a powerful wizard who lived in a secluded mythical place on the Tibetan mountains, and everybody was okay with it?
The Shadow knows.
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8:20PM on 04/25/2016
I've got a very Iron Man 3/Mandarinesque feeling about her casting and character.
I've got a very Iron Man 3/Mandarinesque feeling about her casting and character.
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7:35PM on 04/25/2016
I usually defend Marvel, but on this they are 100% wrong, and 100% pussy. You don't need China if you make a good movie, just look at Deadpool. Followed the source material faithfully, you know like Marvel usually does, and in return were rewarded with a HUGE box office and all without actually playing in China. Its possible to do incredibly well without Chinese censorship. So Dr Strange goes to Tibet in the comics and finds...gasp...a Tibetan old man. In the movie he likely goes to somewhere
I usually defend Marvel, but on this they are 100% wrong, and 100% pussy. You don't need China if you make a good movie, just look at Deadpool. Followed the source material faithfully, you know like Marvel usually does, and in return were rewarded with a HUGE box office and all without actually playing in China. Its possible to do incredibly well without Chinese censorship. So Dr Strange goes to Tibet in the comics and finds...gasp...a Tibetan old man. In the movie he likely goes to somewhere vague in Asia and finds...a white woman. Grow some balls Marvel, I am seriously beginning to hate the censorship Hollywood is imposing on itself due to China.
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5:46PM on 04/25/2016
I disagree the ancient one was a racist stereotype, but the point about alienating the Chinese audience by using a Tibetan character is a valid one. The sovereignty of Tibet is a MAJOR issue to the Chinese, and even mentioning it would probably ruffle a few feathers. Considering the massive audience and money that can be made on these films from the Chinese audience, it is probably wise to do what Marvel has done here. Only a small amount of comic fans will be upset, which is nothing compared
I disagree the ancient one was a racist stereotype, but the point about alienating the Chinese audience by using a Tibetan character is a valid one. The sovereignty of Tibet is a MAJOR issue to the Chinese, and even mentioning it would probably ruffle a few feathers. Considering the massive audience and money that can be made on these films from the Chinese audience, it is probably wise to do what Marvel has done here. Only a small amount of comic fans will be upset, which is nothing compared to China being upset :)
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5:49PM on 04/25/2016
It's not a major issue to the Chinese people, rather it's a major issue to the Chinese government. There's a very big and significant difference between culture or society, and government.
It's not a major issue to the Chinese people, rather it's a major issue to the Chinese government. There's a very big and significant difference between culture or society, and government.
7:06PM on 04/25/2016
Moat Man, you may very well have a point, but since foreign films have to be approved by the government in order to play in China, I imagine offending the government would be the bigger worry here.
Moat Man, you may very well have a point, but since foreign films have to be approved by the government in order to play in China, I imagine offending the government would be the bigger worry here.
7:49PM on 04/25/2016
As I wrote earlier, the tibetan aspect of the character is not essential at all and could have been done with easily by not mentioning where the mountain was located. If they really wanted to avoid the controversy, it would have been possible to locate the temple outside of this realm since dimensional travel is part of the comic.
As I wrote earlier, the tibetan aspect of the character is not essential at all and could have been done with easily by not mentioning where the mountain was located. If they really wanted to avoid the controversy, it would have been possible to locate the temple outside of this realm since dimensional travel is part of the comic.
8:00PM on 04/25/2016
So I guess Tibetans are screwed and can't even be depicted in an American film ever again.

I have to wonder, given that this is leftist Hollywood, is this really about offending Chinese, or about offending communists?
So I guess Tibetans are screwed and can't even be depicted in an American film ever again.

I have to wonder, given that this is leftist Hollywood, is this really about offending Chinese, or about offending communists?
5:43PM on 04/25/2016

Doing Lots of Explaining

So how many explanations have we received for Swinton's casting over the last week?

Someone's not too confident about this.
So how many explanations have we received for Swinton's casting over the last week?

Someone's not too confident about this.
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5:22PM on 04/25/2016
Nonsense. How was the comic character a racist stereotype? He's a wizard. How is that negative? And his tibetan origin was absolutely not an essential detail. He could have come from the same mountain as Batman Begins and no one would have cared. Cargill and Marvel invented a problem that didn't exist.
Nonsense. How was the comic character a racist stereotype? He's a wizard. How is that negative? And his tibetan origin was absolutely not an essential detail. He could have come from the same mountain as Batman Begins and no one would have cared. Cargill and Marvel invented a problem that didn't exist.
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5:42PM on 04/25/2016
In progressive-land, nearly everything is a racist stereotype.
In progressive-land, nearly everything is a racist stereotype.
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