Dr. Strange And The New Norm Of Whitewashing

2016 has been a great year for fans of comic book movies. With the latest featuring Marvel’s most mystical character of all, Doctor Strange. And so far the movie appears to be enjoying a strong opening weekend at the box office where it has conjured up $85 million. And after watching it last night myself I can understand why it has been so well received.

It remained loyal to Dr. Strange’s origin in the comics, which dates back all the way to 1963 (first appearing in Strange Tales #110). That of a brilliant and ambitious neurosurgeon who is also somewhat arrogant and self-centered and whose meteoric career is tragically cut short in an automobile accident. One that leaves his hands with nerve damage that will make holding a scalpel again impossible and the triggering event that sets him off on a journey that will change him forever. The telling of Stephen Strange’s origin was properly done I thought.

The visuals of the movie were fantastic to behold, especially in 3D and the way reality was shown to be manipulated by magic during the fight scenes. Extremely trippy computer graphics like nothing you’ve ever seen before all in an effort to bring this world of hidden magic to life. The movie is absolutely worth watching in my opinion and I personally look forward to seeing more of the good Doctor in the MCU down the line. So two thumbs up there.

ancient-one-iiBut what of the whitewashing accounts we’ve heard about? Take this headline from Variety magazine for example, “Asian Actors in Comic Book films Respond to ‘Doctor Strange’ Whitewashing Controversy” where the complaint is over Dr. Strange’s teacher, the Ancient One, technically a Tibetan man, being played by British actress Tilda Swinton. Something some Asian groups have taken issue with and rightfully so. But in the Variety article they mention only this example, when there is in fact another. The second one though involves a white character, which I presume is why Variety ignored it.

“Tilda is an instance of us taking a male role and putting a woman in it, which I think the film badly needed. The comic world of ‘Doctor Strange’ is very male. So we were looking for opportunities to have not only ethnic diversity, but to have gender diversity in the film.”  Writer Jon Spaihts

The other example involved supporting characterf5d46a75ec6f32b740167badb61e16a3 Baron Mordo, a historically white villain, who was played by black actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. Who in my opinion did a phenomenal job in his role despite the blatant inaccuracy to the character’s roots. This is the new normal in Hollywood where the name of the game is you can’t have too many white, male, actors in one movie. And so with the wave of their magic wands, POOF, they erase the history of two characters created over 50 years ago and rewrite them as they wish.

And let me be clear for the pretend social justice warriors that might be reading this, the gripe here isn’t about the color or gender of the actors, both aforementioned actors did a fantastic job in their roles, but rather the disregard for the character source material. Perhaps it doesn’t matter so much with these C-grade characters, but it’s been done with many others too. We’ve seen it done with Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin in the first Daredevil movie, with Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch in the last Fantastic Four movie and Jamie Foxx as Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. We have also seen it done on television too with Keiynan Lonsdale as Wally West on the CW’s The Flash. These are but a few examples of characters that were created white many years ago, became popular the way they were created, that Hollywood big wigs changed in the name of diversity.

And is it really an issue of diversity in the first place? Because fans of all races seemed to have no problem flocking to the movies to see not one, not two, but three Blade movies staring Wesley Snipes. The Netflix series Luke Cage is not the smashing hit it is today because only black people tuned in to watch it. What I think people who actually read comic books want is for the people who make these movies to have some respect for the source material that made these characters popular in the first place. With the magical, mystical genre Marvel tapped into with Doctor Strange, perhaps we’ll see a Brother Voodoo down the line. A very cool character that would be diversifying the MCU the right way. In the end Dr. Strange was a great movie that I enjoyed very much, despite Marvel’s efforts to whitewash the hell out of it.


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Andoni Demetriades

The author Andoni Demetriades

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