Five years after “Doctor Strange” was released, Kevin Feige admits casting Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One was a mistake.
In the comic books, the Ancient One is an Asian male character. The decision to cast Swinton caused controversy but Marvel stood by its decision. Now, Feige is admitting it wasn’t the right approach.
“We thought we were being so smart, and so cutting-edge,” he says in the new issue of Men’s Health featuring Canadian “Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings” star Simu Liu on the cover. “We’re not going to do the cliché of the wizened, old, wise Asian man.”
Like many major media companies, Marvel has come under fire for its predominantly straight, white male characters, though has made strides in terms of diversity and inclusion with films like “Black Panther”.
Feige admits the “Doctor Strange” backlash was “a wakeup 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.”
At the time of the casting and film’s release, Feige and Marvel’s stance was the title of “The Ancient One” was simply a moniker that could be passed down regardless of ethnicity or gender.
“We felt the idea of gender-swapping the role of the Ancient One was exciting,” Feige stated in 2016. “It opened up possibilities, it was a fresh way into this old and very typical storyline. Why not make the wisest bestower of knowledge in the universe to our heroes in the particular film a woman instead of a man?”
“Doctor Strange” screenwriter C. Robert Cargill doubled-down on the decision to cast Swinton because, as written in the comics, the Ancient One was a “racist stereotype” and that any casting decision with regards to the character “was a bad one.” Director Scott Derrickson agreed, telling The Daily Beast, “I really felt like I was going to be contributing to a bad stereotype.” Though if a woman was to be cast, he admitted he envisioned an Asian female in the role as “a straight-up Dragon Lady.”
Swinton also backed the decision, pointing to the diverse casting of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo, traditionally a white male in the comics. “I believe in Marvel’s wholehearted commitment to creating a diverse and vibrant universe, avoiding stereotype and cliche wherever possible in a determination to keep things fresh and lively,” she said at the time.
Now, with the release of “Shang-Chi”, Feige sees an opportunity to both rewrite and modernize the character who is relatively obscure when compared to mainstream comic-book characters like Iron Man, the Hulk, or Spider-Man.
“It’s about having a foot in both worlds,” he tells Men’s Health. “In the North American world and in China. And Simu fits that quite well.”