Has Doctor Strange sparked another race controversy in Hollywood?

Asian actors miss out on key Tibetan role in movie remake of comic even after #OscarsSoWhite campaign

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2016, 10:27pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2016, 10:59pm

Hollywood has waded into another race drama after Marvel released the first trailer for its movie remake of comic book Doctor Strange showing British actress Tilda Swinton playing the Ancient One.

In the comic the Ancient One is a Tibetan man who gives Western neurosurgeon Dr Stephen Vincent Strange training in the mystic ancient art of sorcery after he loses the use of his hands in a car accident.

Hong Kong to be among locations for filming of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange

The casting of Swinton as his mentor raised ire as early as last year, but after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy unintentionally illustrated how Asian actors were less represented in award nominations than black actors, the casting decision has taken on extra significance.

The film’s other Asian lead character, Wong, is the sidekick to Doctor Strange and is played by British-born Benedict Wong.

The studio answered queries over why Swinton was cast in the role in an interview in December with Entertainment Weekly.

“We are always looking for ways to change,” said Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. “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 the comics, and our movie, ‘the Ancient One’ is a title that many people have had.

What if the title had been passed and the current Ancient One is a woman?
Kevin Feige

“We hit very early on 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.’ [Clicks fingers.] Tilda Swinton! Whoah! And it just hit,” he said.

He praised Swinton for her abilities to be a “chameleon” and her past efforts at playing androgynous roles and those that change gender in the course of a film.

The film, which is set for release in November, was shot in part on the streets of Hong Kong.

While black actors boycotted the Oscars in February over their absence in nominations for the top four categories of awards, the protest also raised issues over poor Asian representation.

East and South Asian actors have been almost invisible in Oscar nominations and haven’t won an acting award in the past 15 years, according to research by The Economist.

That problematic situation is despite about five per cent of actors with the Screen Actors Guild, a US labour union which represents film and TV performers, being Asian.

Watch the Doctor Strange trailer