‘Doctor Strange’ director’s comments remind us why inclusivity is important from the start

Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson has talked about the controversial casting of the film once again and he isn't helping matters at all by comparing Marvel's few women.

The Doctor Strange controversies started early on when Tilda Swinton was cast as the Ancient One, a Tibetan character. On one hand, it seemed progressive – changing the gender of the character On the other it seemed offensive – removing much-needed racial diversity.

Back in April of this year things got extra bad when the film's trailer was released and featured Swinton in Asian-style clothing and surrounded by Asian sets and other imagery. Then co-writer C. Robert Cargill did an interview where he addressed the controversy by saying the casting was a type of “no-win scenario” and insinuated politics had a hand in the decision:

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 bullshit 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.”

Kevin Feige went on to say the choice was not made for political reasons and Cargill later made sure to clarify his comments were his personal musings and not representative of Marvel Entertainment. But Marvel went on to comment saying, “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.”

Speaking to the Los Angeles Daily News recently, Derrickson spoke about all of this but highlighted the problematic aspects of their choices once again:

“Diversity in movies is absolutely the responsibility of producers and directors,” he affirms. “In this movie, we have about as diverse a cast as I think you can get, and that was a very conscious decision. Tilda was a way of adding diversity in terms of not just an ethereal, enigmatic, otherworldly actress playing an ethereal, enigmatic, otherworldly character, but we”re bringing a middle-aged woman who”s not 28 years old in leather pants into the Marvel Universe in a major role.

It's true, there are many different types of people in Doctor Strange but many saw hiring a white man to lead the cast as a huge missed opportunity to put diversity up front and center for a change. However, placing Swinton's casting against Scarlett Johansson and Elizabeth Olsen (“28 years old in leather pants”), as a beacon of diversity is so off-base. Especially when you consider how few women actually get to star in Marvel's superhero films. If they cast more women to begin with they wouldn't think casting one who was “middle-aged” was such a big win. He went on to say:

“I was very happy with [casting Swinton], but I was also very conscious that in doing that I was erasing a significant potential Asian role. I was going to leave Wong out of the movie at first; he was an Asian sidekick manservant, what was I supposed to do with that? But once the decision was made to cast Tilda, we brought Wong back because, unlike the Ancient One, he could be completely subverted as a character and reworked into something that didn”t fall into any of the stereotypes of the comics.”

I'm still unclear why they feel it was easy to turn Wong's character into something that wasn't a stereotype but felt it was impossible to do the same with the Ancient One. What was perfectly “normal” or the status quo in the '60s shouldn't necessarily be held onto firmly today. This is why Hollywood needs to be more inclusive on screen and off.

I've praised Derrickson in the past for making statements on these diversity issues. After the Cargill conversation happened he tweeted, “I am listening and learning” and he made an even larger and more important statement at Comic-Con this year, “I can”t imagine what it”s like to grow up and not see yourself, not see your face up there in the lead characters. It”s a serious subject. It”s gotta change, the way that Asian-Americans are represented in cinema has to change.”

It's hard to navigate criticisms after a project is already done. Derrickson is listening and learning now but these things should be considered before a film or TV show is made. He's right, things have to change, but a big part of that is changing who we hire to create these projects in the first place before these issues, which are easily avoidable, arise.

(via The Mary Sue)