Doctor Strange star Tilda Swinton has responded to Marvel boss Kevin Feige’s admission that he regrets the controversial casting of the Ancient One.
Five years on from Swinton’s portrayal of the Ancient One—who in the comic book series is a Tibetan man—Feige has conceded that the decision to cast a white woman in the role was not as “smart” or “cutting-edge” as they’d once thought.
Feige, along with Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson, had previously framed the actress’s casting as a move away from “the cliché of the wizened, old, wise Asian man,” but has now admitted that they got it wrong.
On Feige’s recent comments expressing his regret, Swinton told Variety: “[I’m] very, very grateful that he said that,” later suggesting that the news of her casting had actually been met with “widespread welcome”.
“I remember at the time having a question mark in my own mind, and being attendant to the public response to the idea that a Scottish woman will be playing this character, and being aware that there was no resistance at all – there was widespread welcome – which shifted at a certain point, for very good reasons with which I had an enormous amount of sympathy,” she said.
The idea that Swinton’s role in Doctor Strange was initially well-received isn’t exactly true, with Swinton herself, writer C Robert Cargill, and even Marvel all having to defend the decision shortly after the news was announced, following condemnation from many fans in the Asian community.
Nonetheless, the actress concedes that the movie’s whitewashing was a “hot moment”. “But the way in which people get listened to is by speaking up and getting hot,” she added. “And sometimes, it needs to get messy.”
Where Swinton does have regrets is over her subsequent conversation with Asian American comedian Margaret Cho, who claimed that the actress made her feel like “her house servant” after she reached out over email for advice about the Ancient One controversy.
“I made a questionable decision to reach out to somebody in a certain way, which was naïve and clearly confusing, because their misunderstanding came about because of it,” Swinton acknowledged.
“I was embarrassed that I had maybe gone up a blind alley in starting the correspondence in the first place—maybe I had confused matters—but beyond that, I have zero regrets.”
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