If there is such a thing as an expert on race and casting in Hollywood, George Takei would definitely be in the running. He’s enjoyed a long and vaunted career, which of course includes all his years on the bridge of the Enterprise as Star Trek’s Sulu. Takei knows well the powerful message in casting minorities, after all, he played a character of Japanese descent on American TV less than two decades after World War Two, and more than that, Sulu sat in a position of authority, and in time when Asian actors are still struggling to get their fair share of the spotlight, that’s saying something. And then there’s Doctor Strange…
As we’ve been reporting, there’s been a significant amount of controversy since the release of the Doctor Strange trailer in regards to Tilda Swinton‘s portrayal of the Ancient One, traditionally an older Asian man in the comics, and of course Swinton is neither of those things. Marvel Studios launched a strong defense of the decision shortly after the controversy broke, but Takei in a Facebook post is not having any of it.
“So let me get this straight. You cast a white actress so you wouldn’t hurt sales…in Asia? This backpedaling is nearly as cringeworthy as the casting. Marvel must think we’re all idiots.”
“Marvel already addressed the Tibetan question by setting the action and The Ancient One in Kathmandu, Nepal in the film. It wouldn’t have mattered to the Chinese government by that point whether the character was white or Asian, as it was already in another country. So this is a red herring, and it’s insulting that they expect us to buy their explanation. They cast Tilda because they believe white audiences want to see white faces. Audiences, too, should be aware of how dumb and out of touch the studios think we are.”
Takei was referring specifically to a statement made by Strange screenwriter C. Robert Cargill, who cited political reasons for the change in casting.
“[The Ancient One] 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 bullsh*t 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.”
Cargill also called the character a “cultural land mine that is absolutely unwinnable” not just in terms of the character’s Tibetan origin, but in the fact that the character was a gross Asian stereotype. For his part, director Scott Derrickson said that he saw the Ancient One casting as “an opportunity to cast an amazing actress in a male role.” On top of that, the part of Baron Mordo – traditionally a white character – will be played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is definitely not white, in the film. There are points to be made on both sides, but I think it’s safe to say that this controversy is far from over.
Doctor Strange will be in theaters everywhere on November 4.