e. magill's                        

The Unapologetic Geek

MAIN LIST        

5 Reasons the Latest Hollywood Whitewashing Controversy is Total Crap

The Ancient One
I bet he calles Stephen "Grasshopper" at least once

The trailer for the latest Marvel comics movie adaptation, Doctor Strange, recently hit the Internet and received almost universal praise from geeks. However, a handful of people noticed that the Ancient One, a character who is an uncomfortably stereotypical male Tibetan guru in the comics, is being played by Tilda Swinton, a white woman who doesn't look much like a small Asian man. Cue the tables of the Twitterverse being violently overturned and lit on fire in rage over the latest example of Hollywood "whitewashing," the practice of hiring white people to do the work of minorities because racism.

I've been reading a lot about this specific controversy lately, and I'm here to tell you to relax, because it's all bullshit. Here's why:

It's Not News

Doctor Strange
The only new information we got with the trailer is how cool she looks punching Sherlock so hard his astral form gets knocked out

The casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One was officially announced in July, 2015, and it was a credible rumor for months leading up to that. If geeks and avid Doctor Strange fanboys were going to be outraged, they surely would have noticed the problem then, because those kinds of geeks tend to follow the news when it regards things like the MCU and the Doctor Strange film.

I'm sure there may have been a tiny minority of fans who felt offended by this casting choice, but I daresay there weren't very many people expressing enormous fury at the time. Indeed, to this day, I have a hard time finding any people who are actually offended, outside of troll outlets like Twitter or Tumblr, where everybody is offended by everything as a default setting.

It's Publicity

Doctor Strange poster
Marvel is shocked that people are offended by their choices in Marvel's Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, coming this November to theaters everywhere!

You know where I first heard about the controversy? From news outlets reporting on the "reactions" of the filmmakers and producers to the alleged outrage. I hear a heck of a lot more about the studio defending its choices because Doctor Strange is just going to blow you away with how awesome it is, you guys, and that makes me think that maybe--just maybe--this is a deliberate publicity campaign designed to get the movie talked about.

But then again, I'm totally confident Hollywood wouldn't drum up racial anxieties and stoke the fires of social justice outrage just to make more money, would they?

The Character was Invented by Two White Dudes

Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Whiter than Tilda Swinton

If you're unfamiliar with the comics, here's all you need to know about the Ancient One. Imagine the most stereotypical Asian monk you can. Throw in all the 40's chinaman nonsense, the late 70's kung-fu exploitation flicks, and everything you remember about Splinter from TMNT. The Ancient One, as he was conceived from the start, is even more offensive than that.

If the filmmakers had designed their character the way he was designed by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and then cast an actual Tibetan actor to portray him, there would be very real outrage, not to mention the Chinese boycott that would inevitably follow and cost the studio over a third of its profits.

If Anything, It's Our Fault

ScarJo and Kusanagi
Given the Major's two most obvious character traits, I'd say ScarJo is well-cast

Last year, when the most recent Godzilla came out, how many Americans do you think were drawn to the movie because of Bryan Cranston? How many were drawn by Ken Watanabe? I don't think it's a stretch to say that Cranston was the bigger box office draw, even though, as acting talents, the two men are at least equals. Additionally, Watanabe is the only major Japanese actor in a remake of a Japanese movie about a famous Japanese monster that is partially set in Japan, whereas Bryan Cranston is pretty much the whitest guy in the world, famous for playing a meth cooker in his underwear.

Granted, I don't think many people are going to see Doctor Strange because of Tilda Swinton; we're going because we've already signed over our first born children to Marvel Studios. However, this is why Scarlett Johannson--who can definitely put rear ends in seats even for crapfests like Lucy--was cast in the Hollywood adaptation of Ghost in the Shell as Major Motoko Kusanagi, not because there aren't talented Asian actresses in Hollywood who could pull it off, but because there aren't any talented Asian actresses that we Americans will pay in droves to see on screen.

Tilda Swinton will Kick Ass

Tilda Swinton as Gabriel
It won't be the last time, either

This is not the first time Tilda Swinton has been cast in a comic book movie as a character who is typically a man (see Constantine, where she plays the archangel Gabriel). She is more than just any white woman; she is an exceptionally talented actress with several awards under her belt who is not afraid to challenge gender boundaries or act in a silly fantasy movie involving magic that was adapted from a comic book. She's going to be awesome, so if there's anybody out there genuinely offended by her casting, all I can say is get over it.

If the idea was to cast a great actor who could be different and weird, then Tilda Swinton is the perfect choice. Frankly, I'm more disturbed by Benedict Cumberbatch's unconvincing American accent.

-e. magill 4/27/2016

  • 3 Reasons Why Marvel Shouldn't Ignore The Incredible Hulk
  • TV Review: Iron Fist, Season 1
  • 5 Challenges in Adapting The Infinity Gauntlet
  • Are the Cosmic Entities Coming to MCU Phase 3?
  • Notes from Age of Ultron
  • 7 Problems in Adapting Marvel's Civil War
  • Could Planet Hulk be in the Works?
  • Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Movie Review: The Avengers
  • Movie Review: Thor