Much has been said (and even more has been written) about Marvel's decision to cast noted white person Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in the forthcoming Doctor Strange, with the general consensus currently standing as: yup, whitewashing. In fact, Swinton's controversial appearance in the recent Doctor Strange trailer comes in the middle of a recent marathon of similarly perplexing casting decisions. Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell? Equally problematic. So what's the deal? Why keep intentionally making obviously insensitive casting decisions? C. Robert Cargill, a Doctor Strange co-writer, addressed these concerns in great detail during a recent interview with Double Toasted.
"The thing about the Ancient One is it is Marvel's Kobayashi Maru," Cargill said, according to a transcript from Screen Rant. Maru, of course, is a Star Trek-esque way of deeming something a lose-lose scenario. "There is no other character in Marvel history that is such a cultural land mine, that is absolutely unwinnable." Cargill has been paying close attention to the Doctor Strange controversy, and he's not really feeling the conclusions being drawn. "I could tell you why every single decision that involves the Ancient One is a bad one, and just like the Kobayashi Maru, it all comes down on which way you're willing to lose," Cargill said, adding that the Ancient One is indeed a "racist stereotype" with deep-rooted political ramifications.
Those potential ramifications, Cargill insists, are often overlooked by those against the casting of Swinton. "[The Ancient One] originates from Tibet, so if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he's Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that's bullshit and risk the Chinese government going, 'Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We're not going to show your movie because you decided to get political,'" Cargill proposed, also noting that the opposite scenario—casting "a Chinese actress to play a Tibetan character"—would be equally divisive.
China, of course, amounts to a major chunk of Marvel's usual box office haul. For Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Screen Rant notes that China was responsible for roughly a quarter ($115 million) of the film's total box office revenue. If box office is truly the concern here, why not write your way out of having to rely on a notable character's origins as an admitted "racist stereotype?" The money-minded explanation may have roots in fiscal truth, but whitewashing is (of course) still whitewashing.