The Daily Beast on director Scott Derrickson’s casting of Tilda Swinton:
In order to avoid one offensive stereotype, Derrickson and Co. effectively erased The Ancient One’s Asianness. Along with it disappeared any discernable debt the character might have represented to the place and people and culture the film’s setting, costumes, and multicultural spiritual mishmash still borrows. In trying to be one kind of woke, Doctor Strange became most unfortunately unwoke […].
Derrickson describes the offensive stereotypes as
“[…] 1960s versions of what Western white people thought Asians were like,” he said. “We weren’t going to have the Ancient One as the Fu Manchu magical Asian on the hill being the mentor to the white hero. I knew that we had a long way to go to get away from that stereotype and cliché.”
And after changing the character’s gender:
“[…] when I envisioned that character being played by an Asian actress, it was a straight-up Dragon Lady.”
“I know the history of cinema and the portrayal of the Dragon Lady in Anna May Wong films, and the continued stereotype throughout film history and even more in television,” he continued. “I just didn’t feel like there was any way to get around that because the Dragon Lady, by definition, is a domineering, powerful, secretive, mysterious, Asian woman of age with duplicitous motives—and I just described Tilda’s character. I really felt like I was going to be contributing to a bad stereotype.”
“Diversity is the responsibility of directors, and I took that as seriously as I could,” he said. “Whitewashing, if you use the term the way it’s used now—it’s what I did with the role. But it also implies racial insensitivity and it implies racist motives and I don’t think I had either. I was really acting out of what I still feel is the best possible choice. But it’s like I chose the lesser evil—and just because you choose the lesser evil it doesn’t mean you’re not choosing an evil.”
I’m not sold that he couldn’t have kept the character true to its original ethnicity by casting an Asian woman, while still updating for modern sensibilities, but bravo to Derrickson for trying to be sensitive to stereotypes.
(The trailers looks great, by-the-way.)