Scott Derrickson, whose latest directorial “Doctor Strange” was surrounded by the whitewashing controversy, says diversity is the responsibility of studios, producers and directors, and he takes that responsibility very seriously.
British actress Tilda Swinton’s casting as The Ancient One in the Marvel Studios’ film, led by British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, had caused critics to speak of whitewashing as the original character in the comic book is a male Tibetan.
During a round-table interview with a select group of media, including IANS, here, Derrickson said: “The first decision I made was really to tackle the stereotype of that character and make The Ancient One a woman. And I’ve received a fair amount of criticism because I didn’t cast an Asian woman, but every time I tried to work on the scripts and write it for an Asian actress, I was writing a dragon lady.”
“I’ve read plenty of people saying that there is a way to get around that, but I just couldn’t find it. The bottom line is, what I had to keep from the comics was that this was going to be a magical, mystical, marital arts mentor for a white lead… with secrets. That’s the story.”
But why only a woman as a mentor’
“The reason why I wanted a woman specifically as a mentor was it was The Ancient One. I wasn’t going to cast somebody young. And because… where do you see women of Tilda’s age in big tent-pole movies’ Where are they’ I think diversity is the responsibility of directors. It’s the responsibility of studios, producers, and directors. I take that responsibility very seriously,” Derrickson said in response to a question by IANS.
“What we were missing (from all these movies) was a female that wasn’t in her twenties, wearing tight leather, looking super… like a fanboy dream girl. I wanted something else. And also to get away from the cliché of the old male mentor to the male lead. Again, just try and subvert rather than play into clichés and stereotypes.”
The director also explained why he reinvented the character named Wong, played by Benedict Wong, in the action-adventure.
“Unlike The Ancient One, Wong is a character I can totally reinvent. I was working on The Ancient One first and Wong wasn’t existent in the script at that time because when I looked at those two characters I was like, these are both pretty offensive stereotypes and Wong was basically a martial arts manservant. What am I supposed to do with that character'” he asked.
“At first I thought he just wasn’t going to be in the movie. But then I was never comfortable with the idea of erasing an Asian character from the adaptation, and I’m still not comfortable with that. Ultimately… I knew I had to bring Wong back. To my delight, and I think I was a little late to discover this… I could completely subvert and invert Wong,” he said.
So, instead of a manservant, Wong is shown as a master of the mystic arts in the film, which will hit Indian screens on Friday.
“Instead of a sidekick, he is a librarian and an intellectual mentor. So, I kind of took everything he was in the comics, and flipped it, and expanded that into a pretty sizable role in the movie. Wong is a great character and audiences will feel well represented. I’m really just proud of this character,” said the director.
Asked about the whitewashing controversy, the American director said: “I’m going to defend those critics. I think those critics who are very vocal and attacked our film weren’t wrong. Hollywood representation of Asians and Asian-Americans is woeful.”
“They are either non-existent or racial stereotypes. That is the history of Asian representation in American cinema. It’s terrible… They have to attack with anger, with hostility, because that’s the only way people pay attention. I don’t discredit people who are critical of it, and I certainly wouldn’t be the one to silence those voices.”
“They have to keep saying what they’re saying in order for things to change. I just know that in this particular instance, what they don’t know is how seriously we took these issues and how devoted I was in making the best possible choices.”
(The writer’s trip to Hong Kong was at the invitation of Disney India. Natalia can be contacted at [email protected])
By Natalia Ningthoujam