Marvel had an impressive — and diverse — showing at San Diego Comic-Con, where they unveiled some new additions to the Black Panther cast, as well as gave their official announcement of Brie Larson as Captain Marvel for Marvel's first superheroine movie. However, one issue of inclusion was brought up again: the controversial whitewashing in Doctor Strange.
The decision to cast white actress Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange — a character whose comic book iteration was an Asian male — was met with backlash from the get-go, which has only amplified as new footage and trailers have been unveiled.
Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson responded to the controversy on social media in early May, and he had another chance to address it during Comic-Con. Speaking with Vulture's Abraham Riesman, Derrickson said he understood why the Swinton casting was met with backlash, and the way Asian-Americans are represented in the industry must change:
I think that what I've come to really empathize with is the idea that there's a group of people, Asian Americans in this country, who didn't grow up watching movies [and] seeing themselves on the screen, and if they did, it was usually a stereotype. I feel tremendous empathy for that because of what movies meant to me, growing up. I grew up as a white kid in north Denver, watching movies every weekend. It was the highlight of my life. For a lot of us here at Comic-Con, movies are our life and 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.
While Derrickson's answer certainly shows awareness, it doesn't change the fact that his film opted to go with Swinton as the Ancient One — a decision other cast members defended, and one writer described as a "cultural landmine" that couldn't appease everyone.
"I know it's a big thing over here," Mads Mikkelsen, who plays the film's villain, Kaecilius, told Vulture. "It's not as big a thing in Europe, for different reasons. It's something we should take seriously. But I do believe firmly that everybody's just trying to make the film they wanna make and they're not thinking in political terms. So I didn't pay too much attention. But I have to respect that that is a theme over here."
Ideally, acknowledging the problem would change things going forward, but Hollywood as a whole has showed no signs of doing so. Case in point: the similarly controversial casting of Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell and the critically panned Gods of Egypt (Ancient Egypt and its gods were apparently a bunch of white guys). Doctor Strange — at this point, in post-production — won't buck the trend, either.
Doctor Strange arrives in theaters Nov. 4.