Doctor Strange, China, & Tibet: The Casting Controversy

Doctor Strange
Doctor StrangeDoctor Strange was released in November  2016 and starred Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange. Prior to the release, there was a controversy over actress Tilda Swinson being cast as “The Ancient One.” The Ancient One is an elderly man from the Himalayan Mountains.


He first appeared in the comics in 1963. I myself am a canonist (a word I created for someone who believes in remaining true to the source material). So, I did have an initial issue with the recast. However, I saw Doctor Strange and found that Tilda did the character complete justice.


Until recently, the Doctor Strange controversy was a distant memory. However, yesterday I came across a blog post that made me incredibly angry. Beyond the atrocious grammar, the assertions made by the writer have no factual support behind them. Further, there is no understanding of the Tibet-China dynamic. (I have copied and pasted the blog here in the event that the writer decides to take it down.)


 Doctor Strange: The Cultural Truth
  • “Why would a powerful, respected Tibetan insult the Chinese government?” Because China and Tibet have been locked in conflict since China invaded Tibet in 1949. Tibet has been rebelling against China in periodic protests as Tibet desires to remain independent of China – and China disagrees. A Tibetan man in a respected role is the equivalent of the West taking a position on the dispute.


  • “The Ancient One is practicing Buddhism.” Actually, he doesn’t. The Mystic Arts/Dark Arts is not Buddhism. Additionally, the Chinese government (or the Han Chinese) officially identify as atheist. The government does not identify with any religion.


  • “..practicing an ancient art that does have ties to the Chinese background that is rich in history and culture.”  The Ancient One does NOT have ties to a Chinese background. The Tibetan culture is different than the Han Chinese. They have a different history and culture.


  • Also, the Tibetan culture is on the base of extinction, so representing it in a movie would be a very well respected and honored thing to the Chinese, I would think. The Chinese are largely responsible for the “extinction” of the Tibetan culture. So, exactly how would featuring a culture the Chinese are trying to eradicate be an HONOR to them?
Doctor Strange was brought to life in 1963. This was prior to the socio-political Chinese Cultural Revolution- a massive upheaval lead by Mao Zedong in the last 1960’s and early 1970’s. Clearly, the political and cultural climate in the early 1960’s was very different than it is now. We need to remain mindful of that.


Doctor Strange: The Conclusion 
doctor strangeIf you boycotted Doctor Strange on the premise of being a canonist, I wholeheartedly respect it. I will be happy to provide my fellow canonists with a list of upcoming movies that have also strayed away from the comic book canon with their casting choices.

However, if you boycotted the movie because of misguided information, I encourage you to do your research. Don’t let your attempt at political correctness actually reveal your ignorance and how politically inept you truly are.

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