White-washing. In these racial charged times in Hollywood, especially following the #OscarsSoWhite protest earlier this year, the blowback flared up again with two specific pieces of news last week: the first look at Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, and the appearance of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in the Doctor Strange trailer. On the subject of the latter, the film’s screenwriter spoke on the matter in a recent interview comparing the situation to Star Trek’s classic no-win scenario, the Kobayashi Maru. Sure, Marvel whitewashed an Asian character, but a particularly stereotypical Asian character from a political *ahem* tricky area.
In a video interview with Double Toasted, C. Robert Cargill was asked about Swinton’s portrayal of the Ancient One, and he describes her casting as being caught between a rock and a hard place for the production. Should they whitewash? Should they embrace the stereotype? And if they do embrace, what do they do about the billion-and-a-half moviegoers that live in a country that doesn’t even acknowledge a certain region that the Ancient One comes from, let’s call it, Schmibet? Cargill answers:
“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 bulls**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.’ 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**k you’re talking about.”
This just in: show businesses is a business. Surprise, surprise. Of course, this is not the first time that Marvel has bumped up against this problem of using a character that’s, shall we say, behind the times. Of course, their solution for the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 was the same by casting Ben Kingsley, a move that did have its share of detractors, but was then subverted with the reveal that this Mandarin was an imposter. Of course, a great many more people got ticked off about the fake-Mandarin dodge, but maybe Marvel has something similar up their sleeve for Doctor Strange. Perhaps Swinton’s Ancient One is a shape-shifter. I guess we’ll find out.
Doctor Strange will be in theaters everywhere on November 4.