Doctor Strange Writer Reveals Why Ancient One Isn't Chinese

Doctor Strange co-writer C. Robert Cargill explains that Ancient One's
April 25, 2016

Just two weeks ago, Marvel unveiled the first trailer for the highly-anticipated Doctor Strange, which gave us our first full look at The Ancient One, played by Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton. The footage, paired with the first look at Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, sparked a new "whitewashing" controversy, with several fans upset that both movies cast caucasian females for roles that, in the source materials for both movies, were ethnic characters. Last week, Tilda Swinton herself spoke out about the casting controversy, revealing that she was never approached to play an Asian character, but now we have a new perspective from one of Doctor Strange's writers.

C. Robert Cargill, who co-wrote the script with his longtime collaborator and Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson and Jon Spaihts, recently appeared on the Youtube podcast Double Toasted, where he shared his thoughts about the casting controversy. The writer compared this casting to the unwinnable Star Trek test known as the Kobayashi Maru, teasing that every possible outcome would be dismissed by certain fans, while adding that the casting decision was made to avoid upsetting the all-important Chinese market. Here's what the writer had to say below.

"The thing about the Ancient One is it is Marvel's Kobayashi Maru. There is no other character in Marvel history that is such a cultural landmine, that is absolutely unwinnable. I've been reading a bunch of people talking about it and the really frustrating thing about it this week is that most of the people who have thoughts on it haven't thought it all the way through and they go, 'Why didn't they just do this?' And it's like, I could tell you why. I could tell you why every single decision that involves the Ancient One is a bad one, and just like the Kobayashi Maru, it all comes down on which way you're willing to lose. The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in a very weird political place. 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 bulls**t 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.' If we decide to go the other way and cater to China in particular and have him be in Tibet... if you think it's a good idea to cast a Chinese actress as a Tibetan character, you are out of your damn fool mind and have no idea what  you're talking about."

Doctor Strange tells the story of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), an acclaimed neurosurgeon who uncovers the hidden world of magic and alternate dimensions after a near-fatal car accident. The film will show audiences corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe never before explored, thanks to director Scott Derrickson, based on the comic book character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Doctor Strange is set for release on November 4, going up against Warner Bros.' Bastards and 20th Century Fox's Trolls.

The Doctor Strange supporting cast is rounded out by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amy Landecker, Scott Adkins and Mads Mikkelsen. Marvel still hasn't revealed which characters Amy Landecker, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen and Rachel McAdams are playing just yet, but there are rumors that Rachel McAdams is playing the Night Nurse. Chiwetel Ejiofor portraying Baron Mordo and Michael Stuhlbarg playing Nicodemus West. Take a look at C. Robert Cargill's video interview below, with the Ancient One talk coming at the 17:54 mark.