STRANGE AS SHE MAY BE

As con­cerns of white­wash­ing whirl about Hol­ly­wood, Tilda Swin­ton’s cast­ing in Doc­tor Strange lends yet an­other an­gle to the de­bate

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES - JAMES WIGNEY

hen it came to cast­ing the role of the mys­te­ri­ous, mys­ti­cal An­cient One in Marvel’s new su­per­hero film Doc­tor Strange, di­rec­tor Scott Der­rick­son had a list of one: Tilda Swin­ton.

Never mind that the char­ac­ter was writ­ten in the orig­i­nal 1960s comic books by Steve Ditko as an in­scrutable, an­cient, Asian man. And that Os­car-win­ning ac­tor and some­time model Swin­ton is, in fact, a 55-year-old, pale, an­gu­lar Celtic wo­man.

Der­rick­son, and Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse uber­pro­ducer Kevin Feige were so de­ter­mined to get their choice that the role was specif­i­cally writ­ten to fit Swin­ton – and would have been com­pletely changed had she not said yes. No pres­sure then. “Scott ex­plained to me all the rea­sons that he and Kevin Feige had for want­ing to re­ori­ent this char­ac­ter – no pun in­tended,” Swin­ton says, in her pre­cise, cut­glass ac­cent over the phone from Hong Kong, where Doc­tor Strange had its world pre­miere last week. “And they were very sound rea­sons that I un­der­stood and they pre­sented me with a char­ac­ter that was writ­ten very much as some­thing that felt like I was good cast­ing for it. And that’s why I was able to say yes.”

In­evitably, Swin­ton’s cast­ing as the bald mar­tial arts mys­tic who helps heal Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch’s ar­ro­gant, crip­pled neu­ro­sur­geon and teaches him to be­come the Sor­cerer Supreme ruf­fled feath­ers.

When the first Doc­tor Strange trailer dropped the same week an­other stu­dio re­leased the first im­age of Scar­lett Jo­hans­son in The Ghost in the Shell – an­other role orig­i­nally writ­ten as Asian – the ac­cu­sa­tions of “white­wash­ing” came thick and fast.

Der­rick­son, in ad­di­tion to lov­ing the idea of “a ma­jor fe­male char­ac­ter that’s not a 27-year-old fan­boy dream-girl in tight leather” says that by cast­ing Swin­ton he was ac­tu­ally try­ing to get away from racial stereo­typ­ing of the kind of in­scrutable Asian char­ac­ters de­picted by Hol­ly­wood for decades.

Swin­ton agrees there is a need for Hol­ly­wood to more ac­cu­rately re­flect the mul­ti­cul­tural world we live in, but be­lieves the stu­dio was damned ei­ther way.

Af­ter all, the cast­ing of black ac­tor Idris Elba as Norse god Heim­dall in the Thor movies – as well as hav­ing Chi­we­tel Ejio­for in an orig­i­nally white role in Doc­tor Strange – also put noses out of joint, fur­ther prov­ing that you just can’t please ev­ery­one.

“When (Der­rick­son) asked me to play the An­cient One, iron­i­cally what they were ac­tively try­ing to do is to re­duce the per­pet­u­a­tion of a racist stereo­type which was a kind of Fu Manchu, an­cient Asian man hand­ing down wis­dom to the white hero,” Swin­ton says. “Or, if they flipped the gen­der, the Dragon Lady. So they were ac­tu­ally try­ing to cre­ate a more di­verse uni­verse. Hav­ing said that, it can be both, as I am al­ways say­ing to my chil­dren – it is also true that we need to be very vo­cal in ask­ing for a more di­verse panoply in Amer­i­can main­stream cin­ema. So it’s all good as far as I am con­cerned.”

The cast­ing of Swin­ton – not to men­tion Cum­ber­batch in the ti­tle role, Rachel McA­dams as his love in­ter­est, and Ejio­for as Baron Murdo – is tes­ta­ment to the clout of the Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse, 13 films and more than $12 bil­lion af­ter it kicked off in 2008 with Iron Man.

All are re­spected ac­tors – Swin­ton won a Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tor Os­car for Michael Clay­ton in 2007, and the other three have all been nom­i­nated for Acad­emy Awards in the past few years.

Swin­ton, a con­fessed film nerd and an “avowed am­a­teur” says there’s no se­cret to at­tract­ing such a qual­ity cast.

“It’s such fun,” she says of mak­ing Doc­tor Strange.

“They are such nice peo­ple. They are re­ally in­tel­li­gent films be­ing made by very in­tel­li­gent film­mak­ers and it’s a com­plete ball from start to fin­ish.”

Although there is a per­cep­tion that Swin­ton is an art house dar­ling, her pas­sion and en­thu­si­asm for a huge bud­get project such as Doc­tor Strange is un­changed from her early, low-bud­get work.

“It’s no dif­fer­ent be­cause the es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent is a com­plete nerdy pas­sion and that per­sists – only there are a few more nerds on this one,” she says with a laugh. Doc­tor Strange opens to­day

Pic­ture: Jay Maidment

Swin­ton and Ejio­for’s cast­ing in Doc­tor Strange has chal­lenged no­tions of rep­re­sen­ta­tion in cin­ema.

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