Kevin Feige Reflects on Casting the Ancient One In Doctor Strange
During Marvel’s creative renaissance in the 1960s, many of their characters were considered progressive given the politics of the decade. But in hindsight, a few of the company’s creations have proven to be somewhat problematic. That includes the Ancient One, whose stereotypical depiction has prompted a sweeping reappraisal of his creators’ intentions in recent years. So when the time came to cast the Ancient One in 2016’s Doctor Strange, Marvel attempted to skirt controversy by overhauling the character’s backstory and casting Tilda Swinton in the role.
Unfortunately, Swinton’s casting was met with numerous claims of whitewashing. And now, Kevin Feige is reflecting on the studio’s decision. The MCU boss recently spoke with Men’s Health for a cover story profiling Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings star Simu Liu. Because the film is hitting theaters at a time when onscreen portrayals of the AAPI community are under intense scrutiny, the conversation inevitably steered toward Marvel’s history with Asian-American representation. And it sounds like Feige wishes he had handled the Ancient One differently.
“We thought we were being so smart, and so cutting-edge,” said Feige. “We’re not going to do the cliché of the wizened, old, wise Asian man. But it was a wake up call to say, ‘Well, wait a minute. Is there any other way to figure it out? Is there any other way to both not fall into the cliché and cast an Asian actor?’ And the answer to that, of course, is yes.”
“Once we finished what we call now The Infinity Saga, we rolled up our sleeves and said, ‘OK, what’s next?’ What are we going to kick off the next?” added Feige. “The next sort of evolution of the MCU post- our first big saga, and that’s why Shang-Chi was at the very top of that list.”
It may have also been politically-motivated to cast Swinton in the part. During an appearance on the Double Toasted podcast in 2016, Doctor Strange co-writer C. Robert Cargill addressed the backlash to Swinton’s involvement shortly after the film’s first trailer premiered online. He speculated that Marvel omitted the Ancient One’s Tibetan heritage to avoid angering the Chinese government. China has long refused to acknowledge Tibet’s independence. So Marvel could have risked millions of dollars in international box office revenue by staying true to the source material. Regardless, Cargill noted that Swinton was cast before he got involved with the script.
Do you agree with Feige’s comments about the Ancient One? Tell us what you think in the comment section below!
Recommended Reading: Doctor Strange Vol. 1: The Way of the Weird
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