Marvel has a ‘Strange” problem. “Doctor Strange” might be a psychedelic mind trip into the 1960s, but it was also written in a time before things like “accurate portrayal of a culture” were a necessary part of the story-telling process. As such, the Ancient One inhabited an AsianLand™ – known as Kamar-Taj – which was just an amalgamation of Asian cultures caricatured for Western audiences. Nothing would pinpoint the Ancient One to Tibetan culture other than the comic telling us so.
When Marvel announced Tilda Swinton would be taking on the mantle of the Ancient One for the MCU version of “Doctor Strange,” backlash was immediate. For all that superhero movies need more women in prominent roles, taking away one of the few Asian characters felt like bad form. It also felt like Marvel was acquiescing to the huge Chinese movie market, scrubbing all traces of Tibet from the script to avoid a country-wide ban on the film.
During the recent “Ant-Man” junket, BirthMoviesDeath took the plunge and asked Kevin Feige point-blank what is going on. While obfuscation is usually the name of the game, Feige did give some solid answers.
When asked about the choice to not only gender-swapping the Ancient One, but also race-swapping:
“The sorcerers have been around for millennia, protecting us from things we didn”t know about until this story. There have been multiple [Ancient Ones…]and therefore felt we had leeway to cast in interesting ways.”
And when asked about Tibet:
Not Tibet. Strange leaves New York in search of something and heads east.
While Feige didn”t elaborate on what “east” meant, the MCU has set a precedent for creating countries out of whole cloth with Sokovia. The easiest choice would be to vaguely nestle Kamar-Taj in the Himalayas and call it a day. Why they”d need to cast a white woman for that remains a mystery.
You can read the entire interview over at BMD, including a minor “Ant-Man” spoiler!