Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson took to Twitter to respond to accusations that the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One was another example of Hollywood whitewashing Asian roles.
Raw anger/hurt from Asian-Americans over Hollywood whitewashing, stereotyping & erasure of Asians in cInema.
I am listening and learning.
— Scott Derrickson (@scottderrickson) May 4, 2016
Since the release of the first Doctor Strange trailer and the first photo revealing Scarlett Johansson's appearance in Ghost In the Shell, a growing conversation has emerged about Hollywood's pervasive erasure of Asian roles in its films. The tendency can be as odious as Mickey Rooney's bucktoothed caricature in Breakfast at Tiffany's or as oblivious as the changes made in the recent Ridley Scott film, The Martian, when compared to the ethnic makeup outlined in the novel.
Star Trek's George Takei took to his Facebook page over the weekend to decry the practice and the explanations offered for casting Swinton. "They cast Tilda because they believe white audiences want to see white faces," he wrote. "Audiences, too, should be aware of how dumb and out of touch the studios think we are."
Comedian and actress Margaret Cho also took to Twitter to discuss the issue, writing, "It's that we have been invisible for so long we don't even know what we can do" and moderating a discussion via the #whitewashedOUT hashtag (as reported by Indiewire).
In the case of the Ancient One, there are no easy answers. The original portrayal of the character does smack of the same stereotypes Rooney employed in Breakfast at Tiffany's and could be seen as late as 1980s with Joel Grey's shameful wise master character in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. Casting the role with a Chinese or Nepalese actor would have quelled whitewashing accusations, but the discussion would have focused on the wise master trope appearing in a 2016 film.
And though opinions will polarize, it is still important to bring these issues to light and the difficulties in dismantling the industries very old casting practices.