It seems absurd to even bother labeling anything as a “controversy” these days, because of course there’s controversy, always. But sometimes controversy is necessary and legitimate, such as in the case of Doctor Strange, Marvel’s new, maybe kind of weird superhero movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and, controversially, Tilda Swinton.
It’s hard to imagine Tilda tied to any negative story in Hollywood, as she seems eternally beloved. Her being cast in the role of The Ancient One, who, in the comics is a man from Tibet, seems to have earned her some not-great buzz, though. This is atypical for Tilda, but even more atypical is the fact that she has responded to the controversy, telling The Hollywood Reporter that “Well, it’s not actually an Asian character — that’s what I need to tell you about it.”
She added, “You just have to wait and see, because it’s not an Asian character.”
Judging by the vague hints of story in the trailer, maybe Tilda’s The Ancient One is actually ancient, maybe even from outer space? It seems to go along with the general sci-fi flavor of the picture, and would explain away the whitewashing. Though, that creates another problem, which is that Hollywood adapted a property that contained an important (if stereotypical) role for an Asian actor and chose to rewrite it to fit a famous, white actress. (Yes, though Tilda seems otherworldly, she is, in fact, just a white earthling.)
Tilda’s answer to the question of whether or not this is whitewashing is appropriately mysterious but dangerously vague, and surely she or the producers will be forced to further justify the casting decision before the film’s November 4 release.