To recap, there’s been some controversy to casting Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Marvel’s Doctor Strange, in that the character was originally a Tibetan man. The change has spurred accusations of whitewashing, particularly when there are so many other recent examples of characters being changed to white, from Ghost in the Shell to Exodus to Aloha.
Swinton has already said she’s not playing an Asian character, for reasons we’ll find out later. Doctor Strange co-writer C. Robert Cargill (who was hired after The Ancient One’s race and gender were already set) also explained a reason for the change: China frequently bans movies that mention Tibet. Considering the film may earn over $100 million in China, Marvel isn’t likely to dare them to ban it.
Now Marvel has released a statement to Mashable explaining why this Ancient One is white. The short version is, the title is honorary and this version is Celtic.
Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU to life. The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic. We are very proud to have the enormously talented Tilda Swinton portray this unique and complex character alongside our richly diverse cast.
There are also rumors of another motivation behind changing the character: Fears of being compared to rival DC Comics property Batman Begins. The Wrap reports that sources have told them Marvel was wary of comparisons to Batman being trained in Tibet in the 2005 Christopher Nolan film. Casting Tilda Swinton is one way to avoid comparisons to Liam Neeson, we suppose, although we’re pretty sure Neeson also punched a guy into another astral plane in one of the Taken movies.
That’s what you get for kidnapping Maggie Grace, Cumberbatch.