According to The Hollywood Reporter, Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor is the latest highly-respected actor to be pursued by a movie studio for a role in a superhero film—that film being Marvel’s Doctor Strange. If the report is true—and even if it is, the deal is supposedly in its earliest stages—it would certainly raise the film’s profile significantly. Which is a good thing when your subject matter is as abstract and weird as Doctor Strange. (Neither Marvel nor Ejiofor has yet responded to EW’s request for comment.)
But who would Ejiofor play in the film?
Speculation abounds—especially since THR called the Strange role a leading one, then offered three possible suggestions: villain Baron Mordo, Strange’s mentor The Ancient One, or Strange’s assistant Wong. Meanwhile, Bleeding Cool points out that comics speculators seem to believe Ejiofor would play Brother Voodoo, another mystic hero in the Marvel Universe who goes on to briefly replace Stephen Strange as Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.
Let’s break these down, one at a time:
Baron Mordo is probably the most interesting and inherently dynamic role of the bunch, because his origin story is closely tied to Doctor Strange’s. He’s another pupil of Strange’s teacher, The Ancient One, but he’s a bad egg who plotted to kill his teacher. Superhero movies like this sort of origin story, because it’s a two-birds-one-stone setup that makes for a streamlined narrative. Of course, no one knows if this movie’s plot hinges on an origin story—or even if Baron Mordo is its villain.
Wong is a pretty problematic choice. See, in the comics, Wong is a Chinese monk who becomes Strange’s man-servant and caretaker. Early on, he was a source of mild Oriental fetishism and some pretty lame jokes, but recently he’s been portrayed as a pretty calm and collected badass—albeit one that’s never really had a story of his own. It’s fairly surprising that THR would suggest Ejiofor would play Wong, giving the potentially troubling racial dynamic at play—Marvel would be casting a respected black actor to play a white man’s butler. But if there’s any legitimacy to the belief that he’s playing Wong, or at least a Wong-like character, it might be interesting to see the normal Wong-Strange relationship inverted a la Michel Gondry’s The Green Hornet, in which Seth Rogen’s titular hero was an inexperienced newbie and his ostensible sidekick was the story’s capable, intelligent badass. This scenario seems unlikely, because no one learns lessons from bad movies—even if they’re good lessons.
The Ancient One is another unexpected pick. Selecting Ejiofor for the part would certainly buck the Magical Asian trope—but only by way of blundering into the Magical Negro trope, which is representative of the exact same problem: using characters of color solely to further the white hero’s story. Of course, The Ancient One is a character with a rich history, one that could be culled and molded into a compelling part of the final film—but given the laser focus of Marvel’s cinematic origin stories, chances are we won’t get much of that. Would casting Ejiofor here ruin the film? Probably not. But it’s another reminder that Doctor Strange‘s source material comes from a different time, and some aspects of it are worth both revisiting and revising to make a more inclusive Marvel Universe.
Brother Voodoo would be a great option for Ejiofor, if the filmmakers made the character the War Machine to Strange’s Iron Man. One of my favorite things about the solo Marvel films is their supporting casts. Each hero has a network of friends and other heroes to call on and fight alongside: Thor has Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. Captain America has Black Widow and whatever S.H.I.E.L.D. agent isn’t shooting at him. The Guardians of the Galaxy have the entire Nova Corps and literally everyone who doesn’t live on Earth (which is a lot of people). It would be pretty neat to have another mystic to fight alongside Strange and flesh out his supporting cast beyond Wong. (If they really want to do right, Marvel should probably cast Wong as a woman, making the character Doctor Strange‘s take on Black Widow).
As for other options? If it’s really a villainous role, there are two other prominent baddies Ejiofor could play: the demonlike Dormammu, and Nightmare, the living embodiment of our worst dreams. Dormammu isn’t very likely, since his face is literally on fire all the time—and that seems counter-productive when you have Chiwetel Ejiofor’s face at your disposal. Nightmare would be really cool, if Marvel wanted to make Doctor Strange a full-on horror film—but that’s not likely either, because it might alienate a big portion of potential viewers.
The best possible option, though? He’s the new Blade, The Vampire Hunter—and Doctor Strange is actually a team-up in which these two have to take on Dracula himself. And maybe also some werewolves.