Marvel Responds to Doctor Strange’s Ancient One Controversy by Offering Origin Details


Yesterday I discussed why Marvel’s casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, a character of Tibetan origins, was an issue for many fans. Today, Marvel has revealed a new page in this book by revealing the new origin for her in Doctor Strange.

In a statement to Mashable, Marvel explained:

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. We are very proud to have the enormously talented Tilda Swinton portray this unique and complex character alongside our richly diverse cast.

Celtic, huh? So that’s why Swinton said “I wasn’t asked to play an Asian character, you can be very well assured of that.”

While the “Ancient One” may be a title, I believe it’s been held mostly by one person in the comics. Anthony Druid, who learned from the Ancient One, was of Celtic decent but I don’t think he took on the mantle. Please feel free to fill me in on more info in the comments as this is not my particular area of expertise.

That said, Marvel has creative freedom to take the character in any direction they like for the films and we cross our fingers that makes this all less problematic. However, from what we’ve seen so far of the character, her time with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange certainly doesn’t appear to take place in Europe.

While we hate for productions to give too much away, in cases like these I feel it would be helpful for studios or those involved to give fans this kind of information when casting is announced. I don’t know if this small bit of information will change anyones’ opinions now but getting out ahead of a guaranteed controversy is a good PR plan.

Marvel Vice President of Asia Brand Management and Development, C.B. Cebulski recently went on record to say, “Hopefully in the next couple of years it will, be the right time for the proper Asian superhero, you know be it Miss Marvel or Sunfire or someone to really pop and take centre stage in one of the films.”

I think the time is now, folks.

[UPDATE] Make sure to head back to my original article on this as it’s been updated with a new statement from the film’s writer.

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  • Jason Rye

    I understand the China/Tibet issues and wanting not to go anywhere within 100 mile radius of them and how casting another Asian ethnicity for the role could be bad, but hell, if you’re gonna make her Celtic (Note, Cetlic is a diverse group, too) then make her Celtic. What I wish and hope they are doing is actually making her a different Marvel character all together (Moondragon, because that is who she looks like) that is just using the title, but Marvel’s PR has blundered any good will it may have had away.

  • Tiger Millionare

    “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 only time I can think of where the departing from source material didn’t end up with a white person playing a character that was up until that point recognized as a POC is Nick Fury? Anyone else have any other suggestions?

  • Zefram Mann
  • Anna

    If she’s Celtic, then she probably shouldn’t be in such an obviously eastern-inspired outfit and setting.

  • Jason Rye

    The Tibet issue I get and understand, but wow Marvel way to screw the pooch in explaining your reasoning.

  • I am torn between wanting to see Tilda in the movie and wanting an actual Asian to play an Asian character.

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  • Lex

    They want to “departs from stereotypes” but Swinton is playing a “unique and complex character” So why can’t an Asian actor or actress play that character? They got to stop using that argument. It makes no sense.

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  • I think fans already think they are entitled enough. I don’t believe the studio should be obligated at all to release character information ahead of time, this is what the film is for. And good writing will explain why it is what it is. Also remember, there is no such thing as bad PR. No doubt this “controversy” has garnered more attention then this statement will.

    • But leaving fans in the dark about important things like this may lead fans to skip the film. I think it’s worth it.

  • I hope they have an amazing explanation for why a Celtic mystic is training Doc Strange in a distinctly East Asian-inspired setting with East-Asian style clothes and using Tibetan prayer wheels then.

    I get not wanting to anger the Chinese market, but my understanding is the issue with Tibet is that they think they should control it, not a denial of it’s existence or practices. However, I am admittedly limitedly informed on the subject.

  • WheelchairNinja

    Aw man, I was hoping Swinton’s “I wasn’t asked to play an Asian character, you can be very well assured of that” meant that the Ancient One was secretly some kind of shapeshifting trans-dimensional being.

  • blue_eyed_raven

    If she’s Celtic then why isn’t that reflected in her look or anything about her in the trailer?

    • Marie

      Exactly! I’m totally fine with the Ancient One being a mantle that gets passed down. And while I would prefer a POC in this role, I would really prefer if a white lady didn’t have a pretty darn Asian look.

    • Does it have to be? Maybe the places of power the Ancient One presides in, go beyond the origin of her heritage. Perhaps it’s a mash-up, or a neutral state. Maybe Tibet is just one of the places she resides in?

    • Lex

      It is like they don’t want to try too hard to change the character. Just change the character so it will fit the casting.

    • Tiger Millionare