Disney generally responds to comments from their fans in positive ways; for example when many criticized the company for potentially creating a white male-centered Mulan script, Disney reacted by hiring new writers and promising a Chinese cast.
Doctor Strange was met with similar criticism when fans learned that the Ancient One, who is a Tibetan man in the comics, would be played by Tilda Swinton. Though many were confused at this choice, Variety reports that director Scott Derrickson made this decision in order to avoid creating a stereotypical character. “The Ancient One in the comics is a very old American stereotype of what Eastern characters and people are like, and I felt very strongly that we need to avoid those stereotypes at all costs,” explained Derrickson.
Derrickson’s explanation clears up why he chose to avoid an Asian Ancient One, but still begs the question: why Celtic? A statement from a Marvel Representative given to Mashable earlier this year further explains this decision: “Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU to life. The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic.”
Marvel Studios president and Doctor Strange producer Kevin Feige further shed light on why this film’s Ancient One is a Celtic woman, saying to Entertainment Weekly late last year: “I think if you look at some of the early incarnations of the Ancient One in the comics, they are what we would consider today to be quite, sort of, stereotypical. They don’t hold up to what would work today. Also, within the storyline of the comics, and our movie, ‘the Ancient One’ is a title that many people have had. We hit very early on on, What if the Ancient One was a woman? What if the title had been passed and the current Ancient One is a woman? Oh, that’s an interesting idea. [Clicks fingers.] Tilda Swinton! Whoah! And it just hit.”
In fact Feige points out that Swinton’s Ancient One can’t be pinned down as completely female anyway. “She has this amazing [ability to] harness of this androgynous sense. So, we use the term ‘her’ and ‘she’ in the film but, other than that, it’s very androgynous. Because it doesn’t matter.”
Swinton’s Ancient One then seems to be simply an iteration of many Ancient Ones, as well as a creation borne out of the desire to avoid stereotypes – and so, Marvel created an Ancient One for the film that’s an androgynous Celtic, rather than a male Asian.
Fans will undoubtedly still have doubts leading up to the movie, but you can see this controversial version of the Ancient One in Doctor Strange, in theaters November 4, 2016, to form your own opinion.