Screenwriter C. Robert Cargill has come out and explained his views on the controversial casting of Tilda Swinton as Doctor Strange's the Ancient One. In an interview on the podcast Double Toasted, Cargill said the Ancient One is a 'cultural landmine,' with Marvel trying to avoid running afoul with the Chinese government, the Chinese people, and 'Social Justice Warriors.'
"There is no other character in Marvel history that is such a cultural landmine, that is absolutely unwinnable," said Cargill. "I’ve been reading a bunch of people talking about it, and the really frustrating thing about it this week, is that most of the people who have thoughts on it haven’t thought it all the way through and they go, 'Why didn’t they just do this?' And it’s like, I could tell you why. I could tell you why every single decision that involves the Ancient One is a bad one, and just like the Kobayashi Maru [from Star Trek], it all comes down onto which way you’re willing to lose."
Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko as part of Doctor Strange's origin story in Strange Tales #110 in 1963, the Ancient One seen there is, as the screenwriter describes it, as "a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in [a] very weird political place. He originates from Tibet, so if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that’s bullshit and risk the Chinese government going, 'Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.'"
Cargill also said loosening up the Tibetan roots of the Ancient One to cast someone of non-Tibetan but Asian descent would also be unteniable for Marvel Studios.
"If you are telling me you think it’s a good idea to cast a Chinese actress as a Tibetan character, you are out of your damn fool mind and have no idea what the f**k you’re talking about," said Cargill. "Oh, 'she could be asian!' Asian? She could be Japanese, she could be Indian, really? The levels of cultural sensitivity around this thing is, everyone is staking out their one particular place and not realizing that every single thing here is a losing proposition."
Cargill seems to be touching on an aspect of the 'culturual appropriation' even those with good intentions might have gotten wrong - that people from individual Asian cultures don't see themseves as interchangable with people of all Asian descents.
The screenwriter went on to say that it was Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson's choice to cast a woman, and specifically Tilda Swinton, in the role of the Ancient One.
"There's not a lot of talk about, 'oh man, they took away the job from a guy and gave it to a woman.' Everybody kind of pats us on the back for that and scold us for her not being Tibetan," he said. "And that's just the way it's going to go. We knew that the Social Justice Warriors would be angry either way."
Doctor Strange is scheduled to open in theaters nationwide November 4.