Marvel Regrets Whitewashing Doctor Strange: 'We Thought We Were Being So Smart'
For all of its billion-dollar triumphs, you can still find a few missteps in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Mainly, that—like the rest of Hollywood's past and present—the first few films in the MCU had a serious diversity problem. Look no further than 2012's The Avengers, which featured an all-white lineup of core heroes.
Even after Marvel started to turn in a better direction when it introduced Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther in 2016's Captain America: Civil War, the studio drew criticism for the film that came immediately after: Doctor Strange. Marvel cast Tilda Swinton, who is a white woman, as the Ancient One, who is typically portrayed in the comic books as an Asian male.
At the time, Doctor Strange's director, Scott Derrickson, said, “I really felt like I was going to be contributing to a bad stereotype," saying that he believed that casting the Ancient One as an Asian woman would portray the character as "a straight-up Dragon Lady." Now, nearly five years after Doctor Strange's debut, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige says he regrets the decision. Speaking to Men's Health in a new cover story about Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings star Simu Liu, Feige says the fan backlash was a wake-up call.
"We thought we were being so smart, and so cutting-edge,” Feige said. “We’re not going to do the cliche? of the wizened, old, wise Asian man. But it was a wake-up call to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, is there any other way to figure it out? Is there any other way to both not fall into the cliche? and cast an Asian actor?’ And the answer to that, of course, is yes.”
Of course, Marvel has come a long way toward making its ensembles more diverse in the past five years. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier told a powerful story of a Black man struggling with the implications of becoming Captain America, Black Panther turned out to be a monumental moment for diversity in Hollywood, and The Marvels promises an all-female starring roster of heroes. Still, it's reassuring to see Feige not brushing the Doctor Strange controversy away—especially when promoting Shang-Chi, which will introduce the MCU's first leading Asian superhero. Check out the rest of Men's Health's story on Liu if you want to learn more about how Shang-Chi will impact the MCU.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by Esquiremag.ph editors.