Actress Tilda Swinton has addressed the controversy surrounding her role in the new Marvel film Doctor Strange (out Nov. 4). In the movie, Swinton plays the the character of the Ancient One, a powerful sorcerer who acts as a mentor to Benedict Cumberbatch’s titular neurosurgeon-turned-superhero, but who has traditionally been depicted as both male and Asian in the comic books. The recent release of the first trailer for Doctor Strange, and the sight of a bald Swinton portraying the character, spurred a controversy about the actress’ appearance in the film. That controversy received further fuel when an image was released of Scarlett Johansson in the forthcoming live action movie Ghost in the Shell, which is based on a Japanese manga series and was seen as another example of Hollywood’s so-called “whitewashing” of characters.
Swinton addressed the controversy Thursday night at a New York screening for her new film A Bigger Splash. “Well, it’s not actually an Asian character — that’s what I need to tell you about it,” the actress told The Hollywood Reporter. “I wasn’t asked to play an Asian character, you can be very well assured of that.” Swinton added that “you just have to wait and see, because it’s not an Asian character.”
Swinton’s comments dovetail with those made by Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, who discussed the casting of the actress last year when EW visited the set of Doctor Strange in London. In fact, Feige defended the choice of Swinton as progressive, rather than reactionary.
“We’re never afraid to change things,” Feige said. “In the comic books, Jarvis is an elderly white butler. In the movies, he’s an A.I. system which becomes Paul Bettany’s Vision. So, we always are looking for ways to change things. I think if you look at some of the early incarnations of the Ancient One in the comics, they are what we would consider today to be quite, sort of, stereotypical. They don’t hold up to what would work today. Also, within the storyline of our movie, the Ancient One is a title that many people have had. So, as we were looking, frankly, to diversify the film, we hit very early on, ‘What if the Ancient One was a woman? What if the title had been passed and the current Ancient One is a woman? Oh, that’s an interesting idea. Tilda Swinton! Whoah!’ And it just hit.”
You can see the trailer for Doctor Strange, below.