We”ve known for a while that Chiwetel Ejiofor has been cast in “Doctor Strange” but in what capacity remained a mystery. Now Deadline is reporting* Ejiofor will play…Baron Mordo!
A quick and dirty primer on Mordo. Mentored by the Ancient One before and after Doctor Strange”s arrival, Baron Mordo attempted to kill his teacher. Failing that, he and Strange became fellow students and rivals. Eventually Mordo turned to dark magic and unethical spells. In the end, he became a supervillain and one of Doctor Strange”s deadliest foes.
Baron Mordo was also originally Transylvanian, but Ejiofor in the role is the first piece of casting news that feels right.
For those unfamiliar with why it's okay to take white characters and make them into POC but not okay to turn POC characters white, see this handy visual aid.
The only way this news could be cause for consternation is the white hero/black villain trope has been done to death. But Deadline”s source goes out of their way to stress Ejiofor”s Mordo is not a straight-up villain. Instead he”s supposedly an amalgamation of characters taken from the pages of the “Doctor Strange” mythos. Personally, I”d love to see more morally grey antagonists enter the MCU instead of one-off villains who rise and fall from power in a single film. Ejiofor has proved he has the acting chops to pull off a character like that. Let”s hope “Doctor Strange” is up to the challenge, lest they fall into the trap of Unfortunate Implications.
But from the outset “Doctor Strange” has been walking a tightrope of Unfortunate Implications. Ever since the film was unveiled as part of Marvel”s Phase III, it”s been plagued with controversy. Before the casting of Stephen Strange, fans hoped Marvel would break their streak of white male heroes. I even went so far as to list some suggestions. Nothing in Doctor Strange”s history meant he HAD to be white.
Then Marvel cast Benedict Cumberbatch. Fine.
The furor died down until last month when rumors began to swirl that Tilda Swinton had been cast as the Ancient One. This was a role originally played by an ancient Tibetan man. The Ancient One is a bit of an impossible situation for Marvel. On the one hand Tilda Swinton is great. On the other hand, taking away a role from a person of color is not great. On the third hand, China is a huge market now and they have a beef with Tibet that will most likely end in a ban of the film if the country is even mentioned. On the fourth hand, it”d be problematic to change the Ancient One into a man of Chinese descent because China is the oppressor. On the fifth hand, Doctor Strange is more of a generic Asia-Land concocted by Stan Lee with no real ties to ANY Asian culture.
Basically, the Ancient One is a quagmire of a character and I don”t envy Marvel the task of making it work.
Out of all the MCU movies coming down the pipe, “Doctor Strange” appears to have the most potential to faceplant into a minefield of cultural issues. Godspeed to the writing team and director Scott Derrickson.
*HitFix Harpy has reached out to Marvel for confirmation but has not heard back. We”ll update if we do!