By Giancarlo Gelicame Jr.
Hollywood films have been a source of entertainment for decades, and will continue to be so until everyone stops watching films, but Hollywood and its films have also brought about many debates and discussions of controversy. Whitewashing is one those discussions about certain films in Hollywood that have given certain roles to certain actors or actresses. Even if it is a big blockbuster film like Doctor Strange (2016), which earned over $600 million in the box office just last year (Deadline). Whitewashing is a very real issue in Hollywood, and in the film mentioned it’s the case of whitewashing Asian inspired characters and representing and portraying them with a white actress.
In the source material of Doctor Strange, mostly being comic books, the “Ancient One” was an elderly Tibetan man who guided the main character, Stephen Strange, into becoming the hero of his story. But in the live-action film by Marvel Studios the “Ancient One” was portrayed by an English actress Tilda Swinton, known for her role as the White Witch from the 2005 version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The studio however stood by their decision to cast a white female actress to take on this role, because they believed that the characteristics of the “Ancient One” were too outdated and stereotypical for a modern audience. And the casting of a female actress, to many fans, was seen as a stepping point towards gender progress in Hollywood.
In the image below is the two different portrayals of the character, “The Ancient One.” To Marvel Studios they had casted a very talented English female actress to further their “strong record of diversity in its casting of films” according to a public statement from Marvel Studios. And according to one of the writers of the film, C Robert Cargargill, it was an “absolutely unwinnable situation” and that “social justice warriors would be angry either way.” But Marvel Studios could have gone a step further and have casted an Asian actress, keeping with the progression of actresses in Hollywood, and progressing Asian representation in Hollywood.
Now Marvel Studios approach to promote one form of social change, being gender equality, but it was at the cost of racial representation of Asian-Americans. Still it is a noteworthy issue and topic that Marvel Studios is trying to combat with gender equality, but as Nishime, an Associate Professor at the University of Washington, warned that the way that Marvel Studios is going about gender progress by replacing an Asian character with a Caucasian female actress puts us at risk of moving towards a future as Nishime describes as “imagining a non racist future means imagining a white future.” (Nishime, 2017)
Hollywood cannot just forego the whitewashing happening in its films, even if the film is one like Doctor Strange a box office success and a film that promotes gender progress in Hollywood. Whitewashing, especially those of Asian characters takes away the opportunity that Asian actors and Asian audiences have for their chance at representation in Hollywood. Marvel put out a public statement, standing by their decision, saying that the choice to cast an English actress was to prevent the portrayal of the stereotypical Asian characteristics of the “Ancient One” and to fans the casting of a female actress was a step further in gender progress. Now Marvel may have done some good for gender progress, but they might have done more harm for Asian representation than good in Hollywood.
- Nishime, L. “Whitewashing Yellow Futures in Ex Machina, Cloud Atlas, and Advantageous: Gender, Labor, and Technology in Sci-fi Film.” Journal of Asian American Studies, vol. 20 no. 1, 2017, pp. 29-49. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jaas.2017.0003
- Tartaglione, Nancy. “‘Doctor Strange’ Crosses $600M WW; Now MCU’s Biggest Single-Character Intro.” Deadline. N.p., 28 Nov. 2016. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
- Metro.co.uk, Jennifer Read-Dominguez for. “Marvel defends decision to cast Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange.” Metro. N.p., 01 May 2016. Web. 06 Mar. 2017. <http://metro.co.uk/2016/05/01/marvel-defends-decision-to-cast-tilda-swinton-as-the-ancient-one-in-doctor-strange-5852791/>.