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The Doctor Strange trailer dropped over a week ago and it gave audiences their first taste of the Sorcerer Supremes’ movie. Not only did we get glimpses of the reality warping powers of magic, Madds Mikkelsen’s mysterious villain character, and a (very short) look at a fully costumed Doctor Strange, but we also got our first taste of the student-mentor relationship between Strange and the Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton. The subject of Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One, an elderly Asian man in the original Marvel comics, has sparked some heated controversy and debate online from those that see the casting as an example of Hollywood "white washing."
Tilda Swinton (Chronicles of Narnia, Snow Piercer) has her own opinions on her casting and the role of the Ancient One. At the press day for Fox’s A Bigger Splash, Swinton was asked by Den of Geek about her casting as the Ancient One.
The script that I was presented with did not feature an Asian man for me to play, so that was never a question when I was being asked to do it. It all will be revealed when you see the film, I think. There are very great reasons for us to feel very settled and confident with the decisions that were made.
So, this seems to imply that there is a reason in the film for the Ancient One to be different from his usual portrayal in the comics. This information lines up with statements from Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige, who said in an interview with EW that "within the storyline of the comic, and our movie, ‘the Ancient One’ is a title that many people have had." This implies that the Ancient One seen in the Doctor Strange trailer is simply the latest in a long line of Ancient Ones, that most likely started with the character fans are familiar with in the comics.
It’s possible to view the Ancient One (who was created in the less racially sensitive 1960’s) as a negative Asian stereotype, which is why Marvel would opt to envision the character this way for the film. The Swinton version sort of transcends the ideas of humanity, but it can be argued that Marvel could have found a way to cast a diverse actor while limiting the stereotype.
This is not the first time Marvel has changed the race of a character. Similarly in Doctor Strange, they cast Chiwetel Ejiofor as the typically white Baron Mordo, and they cast Idris Elba as a Norse God in Thor . While these can be seen as more positive changes, they also cast Ben Kingsley to play the Mandarin, another Asian comics character (though also a negative stereotype).
While Marvel has found justification for these particular casting options, the white washing of diverse roles is a common problem in Hollywood. Fans were outraged when it was announced that Scarlet Johansson would be playing the main character Kusanagi in the Ghost in the Shell movie, and that outrage only increased when it was rumored that FX testing had been done to make the actress appear "more Asian."
You’ll be able to see Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange, which hits theaters November 4, 2016.